Roles, Structure and Instinct…Be Like a Bee

In my front garden is a small bush. As we enter the early stages of Spring, it has come into full bloom. The plant is covered in bunches of small, white, delicate flowers. I can see the bush from my office and often enjoy the view of our garden. Under my office window is a bench seat that I made last year using the original wood from a patio that we pulled down in our backyard. It is one of my favourite places to sit.

One beautiful Spring day last week I was sitting on the bench watching the bees, literally hundreds of them, flitting from flower to flower. I watched them for 20 minutes or so working very studiously collecting nectar and doing what bees do….and it got me thinking. How different are our businesses and organisations, the expectations of tasks and designated roles to that required of bees?

I imagine if I followed the bees back to their hives and was able to peer into the inner workings that I would not see:

  • Ineffective meetings being held with members unsure why they were in the meeting in the first-place.
  • Bee committees discussing outcomes like seasonal adjustments related to the weather, honey production rates and similar bee-like measurements.
  • Projects being constructed taking into account the Six-Sigma effectiveness of nectar collection and discussion about how this could be improved…and, so on.

Then how do the bees work so efficiently? How do they instinctively know their roles, understand the structure and are so effective at what they do?

Although I respect and appreciate nature, often reflecting on the miracles that occur around us every day, I am not an expert in this field. I also wonder what external influences have the most impact on the bee colonies? At another level it is also fascinating that there are so many different types of bees collecting nectar from the same bush. In fact there are over 1500 native varieties in Australia, along with the common introduced varieties. They have all learned to co-exist and in fact play a vital role in the balance of nature, especially the pollination of agricultural crops, horticultural crops and the household garden.

CoachStation: Knowing Your Role, Business Structure and Purpose

The different bees do not appear to get in each others way, are able to amicably work together, efficiently moving from flower to flower, pollinating and collecting as they go. There are significant size differences between varieties – but this does not seem to make any difference. There is no apparent political maneuvering, bullying, struggle for alignment or loss of effectiveness through too many bees congregating around a single flower. Bees know their roles and do it well  – how did they learn all of this?

Is there an instinctive drive to play their role or is there a learned behaviour such as replication or demonstration via senior roles or leadership within the colony?

My point is not to make light of the efficiency of nature nor that of businesses and organisations, but to delve into why we do what we do in the workplace. Understanding our roles, the structure and influences on choices we make is often taken for granted. Is this consistent with your workplace? There is value in stopping to think about your own role, that of your team and the structure we work within. This is important at any stage but no more so than with our present economic situation.

The general feel in the population is one where we are ‘holding our breath’. In Australia there are boom regions and sectors and industries and cities that are doing it tough. A high level of conservatism is prevalent – it is like businesses are on pause, waiting for a change and stimulus to occur – without knowing when or where this might come from. Retail spending and other financial measures are also reflecting this conservatism. As a result employees remain hesitant also. Possibly not feeling comfortable to look for alternatives if dissatisfied or worse, disengaged in their current role.

People are stretched in their roles, covering more work that previously may have been completed by others who have been made redundant and/or have never been replaced.

Employees are being asked to do more with less and ‘collect more nectar’, at ever-increasing rates with targets and expectations growing year-on-year. Structure, knowing your role and what is expected of you are crucial in times such as these, however these tasks and associated roles have probably changed significantly over recent years. The role of leadership, engagement and direction remains critical to team and individual success.

Good leaders ensure that they:

  1. Focus on the tasks that matter most – they may not be the tasks you are currently doing.
  2. Communicate clearly to all members of their team what is required of them, what support will be provided and how and when the objectives will be measured.
  3. Provide opportunity for their employees to have input into their roles, tasks assigned and offer solutions to existing problems.
  4. Meaningfully engage their team, as a team and as individuals, providing context and opportunity to be involved in the direction of the team and business.
  5. Revisit development plans – their own and that of their team on a regular basis – quarterly is generally a good time-frame.
  6. Challenge themselves to learn something new and substantial during the remainder of 2012.
  7. Review team structure, capability and diversity to meet current and importantly, future objectives. What can be done now to fill any gaps or remedy a potential future issue?

It is not enough to rely on history, your gut or instinct and assume that what is currently being completed is the ‘right’ piece of work. This must be clear to all involved. For  bees, their role is vital, yet simple in practice – pollinate and collect nectar. Your team member’s may not see it so clearly. They each have different expectations, beliefs, values and willingness to apply discretionary effort. Now is the time to stop, recheck what is most important to you, your family and employer. It is a great time to assume nothing!

Set yourself up to maximise the opportunities when the economic situation improves. Start to think about your goals for next year. What does success look like by December 2013?

If working on the same things day-to-day meets your needs, that is fine. But if it does not, or is inconsistent with business expectation, issues may arise. Knowing your role and how it fits into the bigger picture is important. Without making appropriate choices, taking action and setting goals, little will change. You will simply be just another bee doing the same thing and you may not reap the future rewards (honey!) if you do not choose how growth / change will occur and take appropriate steps…today.

The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: Find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it, put your whole soul into it – every bit of energy, ambition and natural ability that you have.

(John D Rockefeller III)

4 thoughts on “Roles, Structure and Instinct…Be Like a Bee

  • Hi Steve, very interesting the bee metaphor. Thank you.
    Besides, this morning was so cold here, Autumn has definitely arrived….it was nice to read of the early stages of Spring.

  • Thanks Susan – yes, although there is a risk of over-simplifying business success, engagement, motivation etc with the proliferation of data and information sometimes it is the simple and ‘instinctive’ decisions that serve us best.

  • Hi Fabrizio – than you for taking the time to read my blog and comment. It is often the simple concepts that people understand and most important, can make sense of in their own world and take appropriate action. Re Spring, here in Brisbane it only lasts for a few weeks and we are into ‘Summer-type’ weather already – 31 degrees Celsius today!

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