APRIL 1, 2014

What I learned about Teamwork and Leadership by Raising Chickens

Picture of Chickens

by Dr. Rebecca Cory

I have four backyard chickens. We got two of them, Nugget and General Tso, two summers ago, and added Casserole and Stir-Fry to the flock last summer. Observing these birds has taught me a lot about teamwork and leadership.

Know your place in the Pecking Order

The term “pecking order” comes from the chicken world.  The chickens literally will peck those that are lower than them.  When introducing the new chicks to the flock the older ones pretty much ignored the new ones, after they walked by and gave each a firm peck on the neck or back.  This was their way of establishing dominance. Once the pecking order is sorted out, the birds do not need to peck each other at all.

A similar practice happens in the work-place.  Co-workers do not literally peck each other, but they do jockey for position as far as who is the leader on certain projects.   When everyone knows their role and is happy with it, there is no need to peck at each other. If you want to change your role on a team, be ready for some of your peers to peck back.

Know where your flock is

Nugget and General Tso (or The General, as she prefers to be called) were in our first set of chickens to come home. They are closely pair bonded.  Casserole and Stir-Fry were the second set, and likewise are closely pair bonded.  When the girls are free-ranging in the backyard, sometimes one of them will wander off- behind a bush, or on the other side of the shed.  If one member of the flock is out of sight of the others, and her pair-bonded flock-mate notices, she will make a distress cry until the missing bird answers. They then will reunite and stay close.

As a team member it is good to have a sense of how your team is doing.  If anyone wanders off, and is feeling lost, go look for them. Help them rejoin the team and get back on track.

Watch out for your flock-mates

Chickens have very strong instinct to return to their nesting box when it is time to lay eggs.  When the girls are free-ranging in the backyard, we close off the coop, so that rats do not have access to the chicken feed or eggs.  However, that means that the chickens need a human to let them back into the coop to lay.  The General has learned that she can come to the back door and squawk and a human will come out and let the chickens back into the coop.  She does this for any chicken that needs to lay, not just for herself.

As a team member, it is good to advocate for your peers.  They need to lay their own eggs, so to speak, but you can help them have a safe and comfortable environment to do so.

Know what motivates the team

Chickens are highly food-motivated birds.  They will follow a human anywhere in hopes of a treat.  They love greens, melon seeds and tomatoes, but their favorite food tends to be corn.  When we need the chickens to go safely back in the coop, or when we want them to follow us to the front-yard enclosure, we use corn to get their attention and get them to come with us.

As a team member or leader it is good to know what motivates your team. It may not be corn. But knowing if they respond to praise, new challenges, public recognition, or team incentives can help you get them to perform their best.

A happy chicken is a productive chicken

Although the chickens are fun to watch, we probably wouldn’t keep them around if they did not also provide eggs.  The happier the chicken is, the more consistent it is with her laying. A stressed, cold or hungry chicken does not produce as many eggs.

Similarly, a team member who is under undue stress or not happy in their work environment is not going to be as productive. Work to keep your team happy and productive.


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