Your business is doing well, but you’re looking for better. There’s a major project ahead, and it’s vital to your future success. Do you:
Create a team of exceptional superstars from your business to take on the project?
Appoint a team with the right experience but no star performers?
Your No1 choice is...
Your instinct would probably be to opt for 1). After all, these are the best, the brightest, so if you give them the resources and the power to make things happen, you’ll get the results you need. Right?
Birds of a feather
Sadly, research shows the opposite. In a fascinating talk for a TED conference in 2015, businesswoman Margaret Heffernan quotes research undertaken by William Muir at Purdue University into the roles of superstar performers. He compared egg production between two flocks of chickens - a flock created from the most productive chickens and an average flock. Within six generations, the ‘superchicken’ flock had all but died out. The ordinary flock was healthy and highly productive. As Heffernan explains:
“The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.”
Superstars and superchickens
Heffernan goes on to argue that if a business creates a superstars team, they will get the same results as a flock of superchickens - “aggression, dysfunction and waste”. Instead, as business leaders, we should take not of research at MIT which gave various groups difficult tasks to complete, and analysed the traits of the most successful teams. These were:
- Empathy. The successful teams showed a lot of ‘social sensitivity’.
- Giving each member equal time to contribute, (i.e. no one person dominated)
- There were more women in the group!
“The striking thing about this experiment is that it showed what we know, which is some groups do better than others, but what's key to that is their social connectedness to each other.”
The role of helpfulness
Heffernan continues with examples of how successful companies have identified one of the key features of social connectedness as ‘helpfulness’, the ability for people within the organisation to give or receive help. The key is simple; giving people the opportunity to get to know each other socially. This can and has reaped dividends for businesses, boosting productivity and levels of employee satisfaction. As Heffernan says:
“When the going gets tough, and it always will get tough if you're doing breakthrough work that really matters, what people need is social support, and they need to know who to ask for help. Companies don't have ideas; only people do.”
Building social capital
Heffernan defines social capital as the loyalty, the trust, the friendships built between people that binds them together. Social capital enables resilience, and makes businesses more robust in challenging times.
The examples Heffernan cites in her informative and entertaining talk tend to be physical opportunities for social connections. (Do take 15 minutes of your day to hear this talk in full - over 2 million people have done so already.) But what if your organisation is spread over multiple sites, countries or timezones? How can your business build social capital without face to face contact?
The answer is, exactly the way millions of people stay in touch with friends, family and people they share interests with - but rarely actually see face to face. They meet in virtual communities made possible by social media. The increasing ability to group social media contacts into defined areas of interest enables people to safeguard their personal contacts, and build new contacts across a variety of different interests as well.
Social media and virtual communities
This is best shown by the proliferation of community interest groups on sites such as Facebook. What drives people to join these groups is their helpfulness. Whether you need a reliable plumber or advice on the best curry house, other members are more than happy to help with recommendations. Look at local Freebay sites where members are giving away unwanted stuff for free, and you’ll also find requests for specific items. Within minutes, people will be offering such items for free (so long as the request is polite and reasonable!).
The same principle can be applied within a business using a fully featured comms app linked to an intranet. Information can flow to employees across time zones, without boundaries. Employees can contact each other and cooperate within a safe, virtual environment. And, if Heffernan is right, the most important part of the whole comms/intranet system will be the social aspects. The ability to join discussions, ask questions, rate ideas, is crucial, but the ability to forge new relationships, encounter colleagues for the first time and interact on a social level will lift your comms app from ‘nice to have’ to ‘social essential’ for your employees.
After all, asking for help becomes so much easier if you know who to ask.
For more information on the TalkFreely communications app, and how it can help with innovation, recognition and reward, collaboration and more, call us or try out our demo.