Book report: Primed to Perform – The Hunting Party


Reading notes by Yan Tougas

Traditional companies break their workforce into smaller groups in order to give managers and supervisors “control” over their team.  One goal of a supervisor is to detect and eliminate free riders.  But what if instead you focused on creating teams that increase ToMo?

There are two types of communities that have high adaptability: marketplaces and societies.  It turns out that creating marketplaces in our organizations is not viable for four (4) reasons:

  1. Organizations need citizenship to scale adaptive behavior.
  2. Cooperation and consistency among players in the organization is needed.
  3. Organizations need participants to improve shared resources.
  4. Organizations carry the cost of cobra effects.

These attributes are not necessary in a marketplace.  Organizations must use the society model, explained below.

In the primate world, the size of a community is directly proportional to the size of the primate’s brain’s neocortex.  For humans, the maximum size of a social group appears to be around 150.  Research has shown that building a community is mentally taxing.  We must interact meaningfully with a person every four months to maintain a bond.  These meaningful interactions require a minimum of time investment, limiting how many people we can carry in our social networks.  The closer someone is to us, the more time we must invest in the relationship.  The human social network can be broken down as follows, and companies should consider creating groups of similar sizes:

150 people form a village.  Simply knowing that they belong to a group increases people’s resilience.  Some companies build groups that are too large.  Keep it to 100-200 people and give them an opportunity to connect for a few minutes every month.  Groups that are too large develop an “us-versus-them” mentality, where some inside the group believe they are no longer connected to the group.

50 people form a band.  They are more deeply connected, feel a greater sense of safety, willing to share knowledge and resources, and protect one another.  At this size, you can scale up the sense of play.  Groups of that size can form around a topic, specific objective, geography, etc.

15 people form a hunting party.  They work closely together toward specific common goals.  Real work should be managed by the smallest teams possible.  Bonding leads to high performance and high performance to bonding.  These people should be allowed to connect for at least 30 minutes/week.  They should be encouraged to adopt the “waterline principle”: it’s OK to punch a hole in the boat as long as it is above the waterline.

5 people form a confidant group.  This is the level of deepest trust, where adaptive performance can be the highest.  These teams are leaderless.  The best way to form these teams is to create a mentorship program for every new hire in the organization.

In most companies, only confidants are organized as a society.  Other groups operate as a marketplace.  Further, the company is likely to treat its customers, suppliers, and competitors using a marketplace model.  Truly, the only people our employees should be competing against are the organization’s competitors.

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