Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Causes Fires

by Laurie Lindemeier

Among my fondest childhood memories are the family and holiday dinners my mother so lovingly prepared. She would labor for hours seasoning, stirring, kneading and battering until her culinary masterpieces were complete.  There were rare moments when I asked to assist but for the most part I watched her from a distance. You see my mother preferred to work alone and was extremely territorial about her kitchen. Extra bodies circling in her space only slowed her down, and muddled the process.

“Too many cooks in the kitchen causes fires,” she would say.

Those words rang hollow to my youthful ears, but today they resonate loud and clear. While teamwork is the mantra of most successful endeavors, collaboration – especially among top performers – has its caveats.

[pullquote]“When teams need to come together, talent can tear them apart,”[/pullquote]

“When teams need to come together, talent can tear them apart,” says Roderick Swaab, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD graduate business school. “Teams with levels of top talent that are too high perform worse than teams with lower levels of top talent because they coordinate less effectively.”

Why? Because everyone is asserting their own insights and not embracing the input of others.

As a self-avowed Type A dissenter, I’ve been guilty of said scenario. But as I mature in my profession, I understand that when titans clash, cooperation wanes, and productivity stalls.

When this happens, Swaab suggests shifting the focus from traditional teamwork to collaboratively independent work.  What this means is, the subject matter experts  develop their own proposals apart from the group, then the team reconvenes to discuss how each component can work together to achieve a shared goal.

Or in culinary terms, each cook retreats to his or her own kitchen and prepares one masterful dish to complete the meal.  No competition, no combustion … just a buffet of brilliant ideas.


For more tips on team productivity, read a great post by my colleague on the 3 Productivity Tools You Need Now.


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