Have you ever been in a business or social environment and felt like you were on the set of The Hunger Games? You know what I’m talking about … that cutthroat atmosphere where you feel like you have to kill or be killed (not literally, of course), and where those who claw their way to the top are glorified and promoted, while those who don’t are viewed as weak or insignificant underperformers. Sound familiar?

Many would refer to this work environment as a typical “survival of the fittest,” where a ruthless pecking order is viewed as a perfectly acceptable way to promote company success. But guess what? That model just doesn’t work.

The term pecking order actually comes from nature, referring to the order of a flock. For instance, in the world of chickens, the stronger members are ranked at the top of the pecking order, while the more submissive or weaker birds are lower on the list. The bird at the top gets first access to food and water, along with the best place to roost. Those at the bottom have to scramble for leftovers and roost in the least desirable locations.

So why doesn’t that work in business? Because here’s the thing: humans are not chickens. We have the ability to collaborate, contribute and communicate in ways that birds of any feather do not. And if you want your business to be successful, it’s time to rethink old-school ways and embrace new notions of unity and teamwork.

Embrace Experience-Based Team Building

Intensified pecking order does not lead to higher productivity. As Margaret Heffernan explains in this powerful TED Talk, research backs this up. In fact, a case in which two different chicken flocks were studied over six generations – one “normal” flock was left alone while the other flock consisted of hand-picked super chickens with high egg production and breeding behaviors – the results were revealing.

This research concluded that the flocks consisting of all types of chickens were more productive, while the flock with super chickens proceeded to peck each other to death and wreak havoc within the group. If we look at the research related to human teams, there are three main characteristics that make them successful:


  1. A high degree of social sensitivity to each other (empathy).
  2. Equal time and attention are given to each other. In other words, there aren’t dominant “drivers” and passive “passengers.”
  3. A higher number of female members.


The common threads in successful groups are social connectedness and a culture of helpfulness. And what drives helpfulness is when individuals get to know each other on a personal, more meaningful level. You can have a room full of intelligent, innovative and creative people, but if they don’t know each other and are only focused on individual work, they will not be as productive. It’s that simple.

Promote Unity

Just because you work with others on a project or in the same room doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get to know each other. Because so much of our work is technology-based, it isn’t hard to get your tasks completed while going hours or even days without having an actual conversation with someone else face-to-face. Successful companies go out of their way to promote unity. They insist that their employees take breaks, stop working and invest the time it takes to form positive relationships.

Social Capital is a Must

Social capital is the reliance and interdependency that builds trust. This happens over time, therefore teams need to get to know each other and work together for longer periods to build social capital. Are you with me so far?

As Heffernan explains, when the going gets tough (and it always will), people need social support, and to be able to ask for help. What motivates people are bonds, loyalty and trust. Successful organizations must have social capital in order to gain momentum and thrive.

Everybody Matters

Getting back to the chickens and pecking order example, the moral of the story is that everybody matters (not just the star performers or high producers). This outdated notion that competitive rivalry equals success has to be replaced by social capital. Teams must be developed, united and formed in order to build trust, create bonds and foster loyalty. Only then will organizations thrive and be successful over time.

This is why I can’t emphasize enough how important team building events and exercises are. I’ve seen the power of a united team over and over again. Everybody has value, and by developing stronger groups in which everyone contributes, the possibilities are endless.

We can help you and your organization increase productivity and build social capital by developing united teams that work. Contact us here – we’d love to help.

How is Your Team?

Have you ever been in a work environment similar to The Hunger Games? Or are you in a positive, unified corporate culture? What are your experiences when it comes to teams and “pecking orders?” Please share your stories and let us know how they have influenced your productivity and performance. Leave your comments below.

Most leaders struggle with disengagement, dysfunction, and non-productive behaviors with their teams. We deliver training that develops leaders and engages teams to increase your company results.