During a 5k race, it’s easy to determine who the winner is. It’s whoever crosses the finish line first. There are also winners in each age group. Again, this is determined by who crosses the finish line first. Determining a winner in the business world isn’t always so easy, though. To encourage success, we have to start by defining how one wins.

Is it a line in the sand or a bell curve?

In school, you win by having the best grades. Grades in higher learning are traditionally determined by a bell curve after all of the scores have been tallied. Only a few students get A’s while the majority get B’s, C’s, and D’s. However, many grade schools give grades based off of a line in the sand: if you meet the requirements to get an A, you get an A – no matter what everyone else does.

Which way should you define a winner in your organization? Well, it’s going to depend on what results you want. If you want to make an entire group of people more productive, chickens have a lot to teach us.

Cutthroat competition or independent cooperation?

If you’ve ever watched a flock of chickens, they typically are independently cooperative. Each does what they do best. The rooster protects the hens. The hens lay eggs. They all find food and help each other in some small degree.

On the other hand, as Margaret Heffernan talks about in her TED talk, when you selectively breed chickens for productivity, you get super chicken syndrome. The super chicken, in order to get the best resources and space, becomes aggressive. They attack the other chickens. It becomes a fight to the death to see who will win – and who will become the farmer’s Sunday dinner.

In most businesses, we run the super chicken model by default. The brightest and best acquire and keep all of the resources. Aggression, dysfunction, and waste are inadvertently encouraged as desirable employee traits. These top performers reach new heights at the expense of other employees. And, in many cases, this means an overall lower productivity. Employees who would otherwise excel become frustrated, discouraged, and even defeated at this cutthroat competition. Knowing that your success depends on the failure of others also causes a loss of productivity and creativity.

What if you could, instead, encourage success?

What if, instead, you could implement the independently cooperative model? How would you encourage success and increased productivity through specialization, teamwork, and independent ratings? Think about those employees you have – ones that you know are driven to excel. They would absolutely shine in this environment! By being able to build upon the successes of others, you’ll be able to encourage success, stimulate creativity, skyrocket employee morale, and increase overall productivity.

We’ve worked in both sorts of environments. There’s a reason that we’ve always left the cutthroat companies in favor of cooperative environments. It’s only understandable that companies who value teamwork and customer service thrive while those who reward only the top few performers are always fighting to keep employees motivated. There’s more to work than just a paycheck, after all.

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