Striving to Maintain Order

toy ducks in a row in drain

by Richard Highsmith

I have shared my observations of a small flock of ducks in my back yard previously. Recently I observed the phenomena of “pecking order” while I was feeding them. Pecking order is defined as; “the basic pattern of social organization within a flock of poultry in which each bird pecks another lower in the scale without fear of retaliation and submits to pecking by one of higher rankbroadly:A dominance hierarchy in a group of social animals.”


One morning recently this small group of “social animals” was so busy maintaining their hierarchical organization some of them actually missed eating. What happened may be a bit hard to keep up with. To help untangle the events I have given the participants names. As they came up from the lake to be fed, a dominant male, Tom, apparently became frustrated that a subordinate, Dick, waddled past him. Tom grabbed Dick’s wing and gave a strong tug. Dick in response dropped back but promptly pecked Harry. Startled, Harry attempted to get away and in so doing bumped in to Tom. Based on the loud quacking Tom was really getting angry and he grabbed Harry. Dick, not to be outdone pecked Larry – a bystander.

Meanwhile Jane and Josephine circled wide around the melee and began eating the seed I had put out. Tom, Dick, Harry and the rest of the flock continued to attempt to establish order by pecking everyone subordinate to them. When the quacking died down most of the seed was gone. Jane and Josephine quickly relinquished the bowl to the late arriving males and flew off to the lake.

But enough about ducks, let’s talk about another social animal – human. Teams sometime get too hung up on hierarchy and status. This will almost always result in dysfunctional behavior similar to the pecking order phenomena. I say “almost always” because there are some situations where management in hierarchical order is important. This is most evident in situations where safety or survival is paramount. In the military when a sergeant yells, “Take cover!” – democracy has no place. Likewise when you are on a ship and practicing the lifeboat drill, where you stand and what you do aren’t open for debate.

However, allowing for those caveats, true team leaders don’t worry about status or job descriptions. They are less concerned about who comes up with the solution and more about creating an environment where problem solving can flourish. The difference between a “chain-of-command” boss and a team leader is about control. A team leader doesn’t peck everyone in line or necessarily adhere rigidly to a top-down organization. While the boss demands respect from underlings and takes credit for success, a team leader earns respect by allowing his/her teammates to create pathways to goals that he/she may have never developed on their own. The credit for the team’s success belongs to the team… not the individual. To improve your team, stop trying to maintain order for order’s sake. Pitch in where you are needed and support your teammates.

About the author

Richard Highsmith, [email protected], is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at [].