Thursday, March 10, 2011

What organisations can learn from bees

British Airways in-flight 'Business:life' magazine January 2011

Management consultant Michael O'Malley lists five ways that the way a bee hive works can teach us lessons for organisational success:

1. Pursue common goals. Bees have reproductive success and survival as their overarching goals and deal with instances where individuals attempt to pursue their own goals that are against the interests of the group, such as when worker bees lay eggs when only the queen has that right.

2. Protect the future. Bees proffer consistent and gradual gain and avoid boom and bust. Even if they find an exceptionally good patch of flowers, they don't all rush to harvest from that location. Instead, they always have scout bees looking for new opportunities, and when times get hard they invest more resources in scouting.

3. Distribute authority. Although the queen has a prominent role, this is mainly to keep the colony calm. Most decisions are made by the workers themselves, with the most important being made by those closest to the action that have access to the best information.

4. Safeguard against catastrophic loss. Bees achieve this in three ways. First, they maintain diversity (genetically), which means they do not all act the same way and so the colony is more able to deal with all situations it encounters. Second, they work flexibly so that different bees can step in to perform essential functions if those originally in that role are lost. Third, bees know they make mistakes but they choose to make errors that are least likely to have major consequences.

5. Avoid self-inflicted death. Bees need to keen the colony clean, and so expel those that may jeopardise this (i.e. have a contagious infection). This is like writing a reference for people who do not fit into an organisation, rather than keeping them to inflict damage.

Bees are a good example of an environmentally friendly organisation. They perform an essential role through pollination. They never take all the pollen or nectar from a flower, because that increases regeneration time.

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