From “Superchickens” to Social Capital

The End of the Pecking Order

TED TALK : Margaret Heffernan

Organizations are often run according to “the superchicken model,” where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others. And yet, this isn’t what drives the most high-achieving teams. Business leader Margaret Heffernan observes that it is social cohesion — built every coffee break, every time one team member asks another for help — that leads over time to great results. It’s a radical rethink of what drives us to do our best work, and what it means to be a leader. Because as Heffernan points out: “Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do.”


Words and Phrases of Note:

  • “pecking order”
  • “Superchicken” – “superstar”
  • social sensitivity; social connectedness; empathy
  • social capital
  • friction
  • brick and mortar, i.e. “What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”(Heffernan)
  • chumminess
  • rivalry

Topics for Discussion:

  • What is it that makes some groups more successful than others? What did MIT’s research group discover?
  • What are the advantages of getting to know your work colleagues vs. working more independently? Are coffee breaks a good thing?
  • What is “co-working”?
  • How would you define “social capital”?
  • Why don’t superstars have the same longevity as ensemble/team players?
  • Can you think of examples of a collaboration and empathy in your own work experience?
  • Compare the two CEO office photos below of, the first of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the second of Donald Trump. Which leader best puts into practice Heffernan’s ideas?


What are the benefits of Facebook’s new open-plan office? Read about it here. How does the office design reflect Facebook’s mission?