Effective teams and leaders. What can we learn from chickens and coffee breaks?!

This is a fabulous TED Talk, by Margaret Heffernan, reminding us that great schools are not the result of super stars, but of a collective whole.

She begins by outlining an old view of leadership and the workplace, whereby there is a superstar at the top and a pecking order below. This, she says, leads to aggression, waste and dysfunction.

Instead, Heffernan advocates a different group structure. One where:

  • Group members are sensitive towards one another
  • Everyone gives equal time to one another
  • There is more social cohesion and focus placed on what happens between people, not just within one person – “What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”
  • People help one another and motivate each other
  • Conflict is frequent, “because candor is safe”

This is basically social capital, where work is social and collaborative, people know each other and know how everyone fits together. This, Heffernan says, compounds with time so people need opportunities to connect and we need to value the social nature of work more.

coffeeThe Sweedish appear to know this as they have a word for a coffee break which is about more than just drinking coffee. It’s about connecting. Fika is the word.


Orchestras also know this. Their blind selection process allows selectors to find people who will the a valuable part of the whole, without having biases.

So what is the leader’s role in this? To create conditions for people to do their most courageous work and honor the workplace’s principles, according to Heffernan.


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