Super-chickens are bad leaders

April 2nd, 2019

Avoiding pecking-order pitfalls


Today’s post is from our  SafeSourcing Archives

In 2013, William Muir published a study on the social behavior of chickens[1] and measuring their productivity based on how the groups were configured. They thought that if they bred selecting for all the most productive chickens, putting those chickens into one group should only scale up that productivity into one “super-chicken” flock. To their surprise, they found that the “average” chicken flocks repeatedly out-produced the super-chicken flocks, because the latter group had pecked many of the other birds to death. The parallels in experiences between human and chicken team-building became immediately obvious, and so MIT started experimenting to try to understand how collective intelligence works, and can be optimized in humans[2].

Experiments were performed where individuals of varying intelligence profiles were put together in groups, and given an assortment of problems to solve as a group. What the researchers found was that individual intelligence or productivity was not the leading indicator of team success. The three traits associated with the best group performance were:

  • High ability to read other people’s emotions
  • Giving everyone a chance to talk, and
  • High number of women in the group

What they found with the groups of “super-stars” was that while intelligent/productive individuals may do well solving problems on their own, if they don’t have the social intelligence to interact with others well they will only bring the group performance down. This should be obvious for anyone who has had to work with team members that may look good on paper or to external management, but then internal to the group, is a terrible leader. Intelligence and raw talent are great attributes, but putting together the high-producers that don’t play nice with others can end up creating a team that pecks itself to death. There are online tests that measure your ability to read people’s facial expressions[3], and some experimental tests for measuring a team’s collective intelligence. But at the moment, the most effective and inexpensive test is seeing how teams perform together, and of course simply asking the team who they would follow, and who they feel “pecked” by. For all the experimental procedures with chickens confirming what we already intuitively know about human nature, it’s usually pretty easy to spot who inspires cooperation, and who inspires in-fighting just by asking around.

For more information on how SafeSourcing can assist your team with this process or on our “Risk Free” trial program, please contact a SafeSourcing Customer Service Representative. We have an entire customer services team waiting to assist you today.


[1] Grandin, Temple, and Mark J Deesing. Genetics and the behavior of domestic animals. Temple Grandin & Mark J Deesing. Academic press, 2013.

[2] “Measuring Collective Intelligence – MIT Center for Collective …” 2014. 15 Feb. 2016 <>

[3] “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test – Question Writer Tracker.” 2013. 15 Feb. 2016 <>

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