Margaret Heffernan on Leadership

As we move further into the 21st Century we are increasing our dependency on technology and continuing to reshape how work gets done through collaborative projects. It becomes clear our productivity depends on our ability to operate state of the art technology and navigate the human element of collaboration. In ‘Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work‘ Ted Talk clip, Margaret Heffernan discusses group dynamics and how to increase productivity in groups. As I discovered this video I thought Heffernan’s ideas were worthy of sharing ‘on the line’ because I have innately practiced and experienced her guidelines to group productivity and have found that groups who practice these ideas to be the most successful.

Heffernan discusses in great detail how to be an effective collaborator in a group setting. Her opening story of the ‘pecking chickens’ is a reminder that a group comprised of the super elite is not necessarily the most productive group. Instead, Heffernan identifies the most effective groups as to having three things: high degrees of social sensitivity towards others or empathy, members give equal time to each other, and women in the group – which may be tied to women increasing the group’s diversity and/or because women are usually more empathetic then men.

I can attest to all three of these as being beneficial to a group. The best groups I have been in, whether it was an audio engineering group, school project group, or professional group, have been diverse, caring, and equally sharing. When working in a group, I have a collaborative mindset and these are the qualities I strive for while collaborating in a group. I seek out and love to work with diverse groups because I believe the more diverse the perspectives of the group are, the more diverse the ideas are for a solution, the more possibilities of a solution there are, the more likely that  best possible solution will be selected, committed to, and achieved.

After a diverse group is assembled, factors such as empathy and equal time sharing become important. These factors help contribute to the group effectiveness and as a group member it is essential to achieve these and encourage others to do so as well. Of the two, empathy goes goes the furthest in making a successful group.

Being considerate of other people’s feelings and emotions is not only common courtesy, it allows team members to better focus on their tasks to achieve the group goal rather than their social interactions with group members. Empathy towards your teammates also encourages a culture of helpfulness in which team members are responsive and genuinely care to help others. This is beneficial to group productivity because as Heffernan says, ‘People need support, they need to know who to ask for help.’ If you are willing to help, group problems are likely to be solved faster, increasing group productivity.

Heffernan’s next key to increased group productivity is group members spending an equal amount of time with each other. This is beneficial in several ways: no one person is favored, group members can contribute to and receive a diverse set of help, and group members become more connected and empathetic towards each other. Spending an equal amount of time with each other takes out the misnomer of having one group member who is better or more important. This helps the group share responsibility for the project and discourages emotions of self-doubt thereby increasing each members own capacity of productivity. If people are spending equal time with their teammates, they will have equal time to ask for help or give the help their colleague needs. Finally, group members become more connected and empathetic towards each other thereby increasing collaboration and the realization each member’s work is equally important to contributing to the group’s final goal or outcome. By spending equal amounts of time together and being empathetic towards each other, a culture of helpfulness is born and as Heffernan says, ‘[a culture of helpfulness] outperforms individual performance, you don’t have to know it all when you can rely on your team mates.’

As businesses become aware of the benefits and characteristics of a culture of helpfulness, they will look for ways to streamline trust and collaboration to boost productivity and profitability. A crucial point Heffernan connects with these is social capital. Heffernan cites social capital as ‘the reliance and inter-dependency that builds trust,’ or in my understanding, the social relationships or bonds between members of a group that inspire and lead to profound performance. Heffernan cites several examples in her Ted Talk of how businesses are catching onto the fact social capital increases work productivity and have begun to schedule in more time for their employees to build social bonds during the office hours. Heffernan notes that the companies that sponsor time for a social breaks are outperforming their competitors because the social breaks help create a culture of helpfulness. This culture allows for better collaboration and trust between individuals because individuals no longer are required to know everything when they can rely their team mates.

To sum it all up, through discovering Heffernan’s Ted Talk, ‘Why it’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work’, I was reaffirmed in my innate sense  of collaborative group intelligence. Empathy, diversity, and equal time spent with group members lead to a culture of helpfulness and thus the highest levels of group productivity. As businesses catch on to these group attributes they will look for ways to increase social capital and select individuals who envelop these traits. Therefore, it is upon us to practice and envelop the principles of effective and productive collaborative groups in order for us to be successful in the 21st Century

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