Super Chickens, Finance & Team Building - Uncovered

As individuals, we’ve long placed value on high performance. At its simplest level, at school, at University and in our early careers, you learn quickly that praise, recognition and monetary reward comes from how you “rank” against your peers. Almost like a talent contest, we spend years competing to be the best at everything we do – both in order to feel satisfied in our progression, and to show to others how “good” we really are.

As so many of us know now, this type of individualistic value system doesn’t always translate well into the corporate world. To use a much overused, but apt, cliché, there is no “I” in team, and we know that some high performers, while extremely intelligent, and full of potential, can struggle in both team-based and leadership roles. From a talent management perspective, we see this type of development challenge regularly in some technical disciplines, as often “experts” can struggle to achieve the move from individual contributors to people leaders.

Many schools of management thought put this challenge down to lack of emotional intelligence (EI, or EQ). High IQ doesn’t necessarily mean high EI/EQ, and it has long been recognised that above average levels of EI/EQ are essential for any type of leadership role, in any profession.

High performers, or more accurately, those high performers raised or trained in environments that place most value on high IQ and achievements, tend to judge themselves “against” others. And as we well know, pitting oneself against others isn’t conducive to team building, nor constructive leadership. And it certainly isn’t conducive to making strong social connections with those we work with.

“Social connectedness” is a term that Margaret Heffernan uses in her fantastic TED Talk, ‘Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work.” Heffernan makes the argument that the thing that all great teams, companies and groups share is this “social connectedness”. Citing a piece of research conducted by MIT, she explains that successful and productive groups of individuals show high levels of social sensitivity to each other, and high levels of empathy.

Translated into the corporate world, Heffernan sees social connectedness as the foundation of teams that deliver innovation and excellence. When connected socially, individuals create the suitable team environment, or incubator, for new-born ideas. By being connected socially, you build reliance, interdependency and trust – and according to Heffernan, these are essential building blocks to achieving true high performance.

Heffernan argues that the best leaders focus on building “social capital”. They do not focus on “management by talent contest”, as they recognise that teams that have high levels of empathy, that are socially connected and have time to help others, actually deliver the best results. Collaborators, not individual contributors, produce the best results, and as a leader it is your role to move away from the idea of being a “hero” and:

“redefine leadership as an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.”

Right now, what can you do to encourage this mentality?

By discouraging the grooming or celebration of individual high performers, or “super chickens” as Heffernan humorously calls them, and focusing more on building “social capital” through encouraging real social connections across your team. Appreciating how social work is will be vital to really making this change. Look at what many companies do now – systemising and encouraging regular social encounters and opportunities to cross-pollinate and create social connectedness across boundaries, hierarchies and divisions…it’s certainly food for thought.

Above all, resist the temptation to try motivating through money. As Heffernan outlines, research shows that money erodes social connectedness, and more than anything what motivates people is themselves and those around them, the loyalty and the trust they have for others – but this only will occur if they have built a true bond with their co-workers.
Or in Heffernan’s eloquent words, “What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks”.

Watch: Margaret Heffernan, “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work”, TED Talks here.

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