My team of No Super-Chickens

This title is a reference to an excellent TEDx that explains why a team of “super-chickens” doesn’t work.

If you take a look at the teams that I created or led over the years, you’ll find all types of profiles. People with very different careers, life experiences and diplomas. Some are more visionary, they excel at coming up with new ideas that will create huge improvements, but they’re incapable of sending an email without getting the date or the recipient wrong. On the other hand, there are the very rigorous ones, who don’t feel comfortable implementing a new idea or going off the beaten track. Others like to entertain people, are a little crazy, and make sure there’s always a positive vibe. However, often, there’s no superstar, everyone is important, and no team member is more valuable than the other.

Here’s an excerpt of the TEDx:

“An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity — I think it’s something that concerns all of us — but it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. “

When putting together a team, it could be tempting to look for superstars, industry prodigies. However, before doing that, think it through for a minute. A team performs well when the members want to work together towards a common goal, and that only happens when they feel like they’re all equal. Adding a superstar drastically increases the risk of creating a spirit of competition, which is not always positive and may decrease the productivity of others.

The other trap to avoid is trying to “clone” ourselves – in other words, trying to recruit people that have ideas, visions and personality traits that are similar to mine. After all, I am the best. So, a person that looks like me will inevitably be better than others. However, this “clone” that I’m bringing into the team, will he be able to defy me, will he know my weaknesses? It seems quite unlikely, because he’ll probably have the same ones! It’s normal to appreciate people that are similar to us. Working with an employee that approves of everything we say, rather than working with one that challenges us, is definitely nicer, but not necessarily beneficial for the overall team performances. To invent, innovate, create, you need counter-powers, ideas that go against the flow.

What makes the success of a team is its diversity, the different ways of thinking. If diversity has become a challenge of society, it’s because there’s now enough data that shows that companies with higher diversity performs better. The same goes for teams.

When putting your team together, don’t just take into account each individual’s relationship skills (soft skills), but also ask yourself which common traits you’re looking for. That has to be your priority when selecting a candidate. It’s only after that list is established and shared with recruiters that you can start looking at their technical competencies, experience, knowledge, and diploma. In that order, and not the other way around.

Don’t forget that it’s a lot easier to learn a technical skill than it is to change mindsets.

I’m going to end this article with the conclusion of the Ted Talk: “… we won’t solve our problems if we expect it to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure. “

Reference: Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk: Why it is time to forget the pecking order at work

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