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Teamwork in the work place- a lesson from the Honeybee

By Jon Perry


Teamwork is essential to the survival of any organization and the Honeybee is the worlds leading teamwork expert. The Honeybees amazing organization methods have been tried to perfection over the past 35million years. If you are attempting to run a multibillion dollar cooperation, or a small nonprofit organization, there are many lessons taught by the bee which can be applied directly to you.

Understanding Your Mission

The Honeybee has a very clear mission, it is the same mission that virtually all living things share: to multiply and fill the earth. This is their main objective. In order for any organization to reach their objective, they need a plan. The plan of the honeybee just happens to be four fold: They will build a hive, protect the hive with force, sustain themselves with honey made from pollen and nectar, and reproduce.

Like the Honeybee, all successful organizations must have a clear mission. Finding a mission isn’t usually hard to do. If you are a corporation or small business, your main objective is to make money. If you are a church, it is to teach your faith (at least it probably should be). The tricky part is coming up with a plan to fulfill your mission. You may find this to be the most difficult part of running an organization, it is also the most rewarding when you see it all working in the end. Hats off to the Honeybee, they have done a perfect job.

Team building and delegation

The Honeybee has constructed a marvelous team and every member of the team knows what their part is. The Queen bee lays the eggs (2,000 a day if she’s in good health). The Drone bee mates with the Queen (the poor guy dies in the process). Nurse workers take care of eggs and larva. Mortuary bees dispose of the dead and see that the hive is sterile. Soldier bees protect the hive from predators and intruders from other hives. Foragers seek out and collect food for the entire family (that can be more than a 100,000 mouths to feed).

For us to be successful we too must know our part in the team. We all need to understand the main goal and devote ourselves to our specific responsibilities. Delegation is essential for success. Giving specific titles and duties to your team members is an essential part of delegation. Some people (especially in small organizations) feel that giving specific titles and duties will limit their team member’s potential. This can be true to some degree but if specific titles and responsibilities are not given, you will find that nothing will ever get done. Imagine a Rock band getting on stage and still not knowing who will play the drums. To avoid limiting your team members’ potential, you should assign flexible titles. Ringo was the drummer for the Beetles, but every once in a while he’d write and sing a song or two.

The drone bee exists for the sole purpose of mating with the Queen, but when the temperature is high in the hive he will join in with the workers and keep things cool by fluttering his wings like a fan.

Replacement training and promotion

The Honeybee has an automatic system of replacement training and promotion to help the hive stay ahead of the curve and safe in an emergency. The work of a hive is divided into two main areas: inside chores, and outside chores. A young bee starts by working inside as a nurse and when she matures she leaves to work outside as a forager. A forager bee gathers food and gives it to the rest of the hive; when so doing, she passes along a chemical in the food that stops the young nurses from maturing and becoming foragers. When a forager dies, she no longer passes the chemicals on to the nurses. Without this chemical, the insiders mature and become foragers. No one misses a beat. If a mass loss in foragers occurs, a mass number of nurses will leave, and the hive will slow in its baby production until things are back on track.

In your organization you should aim for smooth replacement transitions as well. Never become over dependant on a single individual. People will leave your organization, sometimes without proper notice. Everyone should know how to do more than just their one specific job. See that everyone is trained in at least three responsibilities so that they can take over in case of an emergency.

Seasonal help and layoffs

Drone (male) bees only mate once and it’s to the death. The rest of the time they really don’t have much to do. In mild climates this is fine, but in places with harsh winters, the hives can’t handle the mooching. When breeding season is over and winter comes there aren’t usually many drones left, but if there are some still around, they are unfortunately forced to leave. The Queen will stop laying drone eggs until spring. The hatchlings of spring will be ready to mate come breeding time and the colony will be happy and well.

Nobody likes to lay people off. It’s stressful on everyone. Feelings are hurt, and people are left with no place to go. Overall morale decreases as employees fear that they might be next. Avoid layoffs at all costs! The best way to do this is to keep full time staff at a minimum and get temporary help when the workload it too high. If you hire an individual and tell him his job will be temporary, he should not be hurt or ill prepared when his job comes to an end. Keep in mind that a person who’s job is only temporary, may have difficulty dedicating himself to the organization unless there is a possibility for him to be promoted.

Always be direct and honest with your workers, do not give them hope of promotion if the possibility does not really exist. If you manipulate your team, they will revolt. Hopefully they’ll be a little more merciful than the honeybee. When nurse bees discover that the queen is no longer doing her job properly, they kill and replace her. Checks and balances are always good to have.


The Honeybee has encountered several problems that they were unable to solve on there own. In the early 1990s, a varroa mite infestation spread across the United States. These parasitic mites were killing bees by the millions. The bees were not prepared to defend themselves on their own so they went for help. Human beings are very good at killing pests. Bees gave honey to man and man rid bees of their mite infestations. It was a win-win situation.

If you have a problem in your organization that you don’t know how to fix, find someone who does. Outsourcing can be essential to survival.

Keep an edge on the competition

Everyone loves honey, but we all know that it’s not fun to be stung by a bee. When a bee stings another insect or small creature it injects a bit of venom into the wound and flies away. When it attacks a human or large mammal it releases the whole stinger. The detached stinger is actually two barbed spikes attached by a muscle that pulsates causing the two hooks to dig deeper and deeper into the flesh injecting poison as it goes. The result is excruciating pain. This usually stops enemies from advancing. European Honeybees only attack when they feel the hive is in danger or when they are personally threatened or injured.

Your organization must also be able to fend off enemies. Know who your competitors are. Keep an eye on them. Understand the laws involved with your organization (or hire someone who does). Avoid conflict when possible but don’t be afraid to defend yourself when in danger. It’s a tough world out there.

Lessons learned from the bees

+ Have a clear mission and see that the entire team understands that mission

+ Give your team members clear specific responsibilities

+ See that every member is trained in at least three areas for promotion and replacement purposes (as well as job satisfaction)

+ Make use of seasonal help for temporary booms in work load

+ Outsourcing is your friend

+ Understand your competition

About the Author

CMOE provides workshops and materials for team building, strategic leadership, corporate leadership training, and more.

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