We’re All Chickens in the Coop!

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: I believe the next important advancement in organization cultures will be the harnessing of the social capital related to unleashing peer-to-peer power. When I say that, people give me that fuzzy look: “What the heck is he talking about now?” This is a concept that has evolved and is more expansive than simply “good teamwork.”

Yes, the current leadership research underscores our need to be part of organizations that have a “true north” because a compelling “purpose” really matters. However, one of the big, and I believe under appreciated reasons, most of us love coming (or not) to work, is to connect and achieve with our teammates. We love the value we feel when our “brothers or sisters” on either side of us appreciate what we do. Having a beer or other beverage with a teammate after some small or big accomplishment and exchanging some version of, “I love you, man” is the best feeling. On the other hand, having peers we respect tell us we are underperforming is the worst. It is much more disappointing than getting reamed out by one’s boss. Why? You can’t usually B.S. your teammates. They know what we do and whether we really contribute, and most of us hate to let them down. The best teams are ones where people deeply respect, cooperate and HELP each other achieve an exponentially better outcome. 

Margaret Heffernan, a highly regarded CEO, author and thought leader, has a TEDTalk with over 1.8 million views.

In her best storytelling manner, she relates a scientific study conducted at University of Purdue, which proved that over six generations, a flock of ordinary chickens totally thrashed a flock of “super chickens” when it came to egg-laying productivity. Why? The “super chickens” pecked each other to death until there were only three left. The key to success? Social capital: People helping each other. In the talk she exclaims:

“Helpfulness sounds really anemic, but it’s absolutely core to successful teams, and it routinely outperforms individual intelligence. Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help. For the past 50 years, we’ve run most organizations and some societies along the super chicken model. We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men, or occasionally women, in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power. And the result has been just the same as in William Muir’s experiment: aggression, dysfunction and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”

The idea of people helping each other and embracing active cooperation is not about being mushy headed, passive aggressive and accepting mediocrity. In fact my experience is the opposite: Great teams “fight well,” embrace constructive conflict, confront each other when needed, and most importantly HELP and encourage one another to contribute their best. And when that’s the culture, peer-to-peer power positively explodes. Team members do not wait for the hierarchy to direct or even coach, and generally are not dependent on getting their boss’ approval for much if anything. They act and prefer to get s&% done!! If necessary, they seek forgiveness after. Making the organization’s purpose come true, living the values and defining the true brand through employee behavior is priceless. When that comes from peer-to-peer power, the top executive and leadership system can focus their attention towards the future. And the organization stops just looking for “super chickens with super egos,” that will undoubtedly peck each other to death.

Character Moves: 

  1. While great leadership and some top-down leading is appropriate (at times even necessary), it is nowhere near sufficient. Really advancing the culture comes from the peer community connecting to drive the business forward. Helpfulness, cooperation, and trust amongst teammates creates a powerful movement. Everyone wins. Super egos and super chickens are left behind. Every day “chickens” work together as a system to make things exponentially better. Where is your organization relative to unleashing peer-to-peer power? 
  1. Watch Heffernan’s video (15 very useful minutes) to get a real inspiration on this topic. If information, decision-making, knowledge, and insight move mostly vertical and hierarchal in your group or company, then I believe your organization will soon be left behind. We need transparency, authenticity, feedback, coaching, cooperation, helpfulness, and the care that comes from empathetic and, yes, “loving” cooperative peers and teammates who are a collection of all kinds of “chickens.” It leads to super results, not just super stars.

Unleashing peer-to-peer power in the triangle,


One Millennial View: This is ideal. I think we’re all in search of, and envious of great teams. But it’s important for people like me to recognize that awesome peer-to-peer power comes with a social contract, and a special commitment within the “pen.” It’s not just given to you. It requires us “chickens” to “fight well, embrace constructive conflict, confront each other when needed, and most importantly HELP and encourage one another to contribute their best.” That’s not too much to ask and it doesn’t require “super chicken” qualifications, but you still have to be a pretty great chicken to take on these responsibilities. Are you willing to? Great. If not, you might as well be just another lone chicken running around with its head cut off.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis