Are you a Super-Chicken? Here's Why You're Making Super Problems at Work

Have you ever worked with someone who seems a little too aggressive? Someone who is always jumping to take command of the team? What about the person that always needs to be the rockstar in the limelight?   If you said yes to any of the above, you may have a “super-chicken” on your hands. As Margaret Heffernan shares in the popular TEDTalk, Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work, super-chickens make super problems.

[bctt tweet="Why Super-Chickens Make Super Problems #collaboration #empathy"]

What is a super-chicken?

Heffernan opens her talk by citing a study in which generations of “average” chickens were measured against a “super” flock of hand-selected, hyper-productive chickens (productive as in quantity of eggs). What researchers found was that, over the course of six generations, the average chickens had out-performed the super flock. Not only that, but many of the super-chickens had pecked the other members of their flock to death.

If you’ve ever worked with a “super-chicken,” or if you work in an organization that glorifies these theoretically “top performers,” the relevancy is clear. When you think of who the super-chickens are in the office, the first traits that come to mind are likely to be the following:

  • A "Joe know-it-all"
  • Power-hungry
  • Putting others’ work down
  • Making others feel less important to the team
  • “Lime-lighting” only their own work
  • Low emotional IQ (self-awareness/ regulation, empathy, social skills)
  • Claiming to be the means to an end—the solution for any issue at hand.

Super-chickens often have personalities that don’t work well with others. They’re poor collaborators and they don’t improve from constructive criticism or feedback, but continue in their ways. They want to be the star, and in an organization that prioritizes super-chickens, they get liberal reign of resources from management.[bctt tweet="If you work in an org that glorifies 'rockstars,' you know how destructive this can be."]

What happens when there is a super-chicken on your team? 

Super-chickens in the workplace impacts the entire team’s morale. The super-chicken puts down others’ work by disregarding its importance and the impact that their work makes for the company as a whole.

Other effects from having someone with this personality on your team is the output from each team member will be lackluster in quantity and quality. Team members will start to question their contributions and purpose, which is detrimental to sustained productivity, even with high-performing “stars” in the mix.

Historically, super-chickens have been more valued in the workplace—it isn’t until recently that leaders in business have begun to recognize the value of emotional intelligence over technical prowess (in fact, 92% of the company executives surveyed in our recent study reported believing that culture skills are at least, if not more important than technical ability). This rival-construct meant coworkers were pitted against each other to earn respect and climb the corporate ladder. We’re all familiar with this management style and conditioned to it from an early age—even our achievement-focused public education trains students to vie for the highest class-rank. [bctt tweet="Historically, businesses valued 'super-chickens.' Now, leaders look for high #EQ."]

The outcome of this competitive management style is that employees burn out. People lose motivation early on when they feel as though another teammate is “the chosen one.”  This then handicaps creativity, while hindering long-term productivity in place of immediate results. 

Don't be a super-chicken—collaboration in business is key to success:

What happens between people really counts. Each person you interact with gives you the chance to bring out the best in that person, and they can bring out the best in you. In groups where coworkers a highly-sensitive to one another, ideas can flow and grow without barriers of distrust or insecurity.[bctt tweet="Ideas flow + grow in highly-empathetic groups. #emotionalintelligence #collaboration"]

High-achieving groups and effective collaboration involves:

  • Have high degrees of empathy toward each other
  • Give roughly equal time to each other—no leaders or followers
  • Have more women (unclear if this is because women score higher on empathy tests or because they bring a more diverse perspective to the team)

Heffernan emphasizes a culture of helpfulness as central to success, routinely outperforming individual intelligence. When coworkers invest time in building relationships with one another, everybody wins. This is part of why we've designed our admissions rubric to include Thinks Beyond Oneself and SASH (self-aware, sincere, and humble). These qualities map to great collaborators, high-impact contributors, and the makings of great leaders.

In Heffernan's words:

When the going gets tough—and it always will get tough if you’re doing breakthrough work that really matters, what people need is social support, and they need to know who to ask for help. Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do… What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.

[bctt tweet="What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks. Prioritize relationships."]

How to cure the super-chicken syndrome:

If there is a poor collaborator on your team, the best way to go about facilitating this change is incrementally. This truly requires a shift in mindset, and is not an overnight fix. Manage this behavior by proposing new collaboration techniques, framed as questions to the group as a whole:

  • How does everyone feel about dividing up the tasks in a more efficient way according to our skill levels?
  • I think [XXX teammate] should be the project manager on this, because they have the most experience or interest in this thing. Do you agree?
  • What do you all think of sharing our progress with each other? 

By proposing these type of inclusive questions with the support of your company leadership, these cultural changes are more likely to occur.[bctt tweet="The best way to incite cultural change is incrementally. "]

Have you encountered a super-chicken in the office situation? What have you done you promote better collaboration? Share your super chicken stories in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Poppy via Flickr cc