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3 Lessons Team Leaders Can Learn From Bees
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Great companies are built by great teams. But, teamwork isn’t just critical for an organization’s overall success. Studies have shown that effective teamwork leads to employees experiencing lesser burnout, showing tremendous individual growth, and being happier at work
And what better way to learn what goes into building high-performance teams than from some of the best teams?
If you think I’m talking about the team that worked behind the Apollo 11 Moon Landing or the one that managed the Toy Story crisis, you’re wrong. I’ll save that for another day.
Instead, I’m going to focus on bees. With May 20th recognized as World Bee Day, it’s only fair that we shed light on what makes these tiny winged creatures so efficient at what they do — playing a key role in driving pollination.
You’d be surprised to know that bees have well-defined roles, established lines of communication, and great team camaraderie, all of which help them go about their daily jobs and keep the hive healthy.
In fact, a lot of what we do at Hiver is built on these very same principles of teamwork (no surprise then that the bee is our official mascot).
So, if you’re responsible for leading a team, you can learn quite a few important lessons from bees. Let’s take a look at some.
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- 1. Setting clear roles and responsibilities
- 2. Communicate, communicate, and communicate
- 3. Clutter is your nemesis
1. Setting clear roles and responsibilities
One of the most fascinating things about a beehive is how different kinds of bees live and work in unison. Every hive usually consists of a queen bee (female), drones (male bees), and worker bees (female bees).
The queen bee is responsible for laying eggs, the drones are tasked with mating, whereas the worker bees are the hustlers — responsible for pollinating flowers, keeping the hive safe, and taking care of the queen, amongst other things.
To sum it up, every bee knows its role and performs it effectively, contributing to the sustenance of both the hive and the surrounding ecosystem.
Ask yourself – does your team function in a similar manner? Do your team members have clarity on their roles and responsibilities? Or are they constantly stepping on each other’s toes?
According to a study by Effectory, nearly 50% of employees across all sectors lack role clarity.
That said, employees who have role clarity are actually 53% more efficient and 27% more effective than employees who don’t get this clarity.
If you are managing a team, this is where you have a very important role to play.
Assess the project/task at hand – what needs to be done? Who is going to do what? How quickly this needs to be done?
This will help in dividing the responsibilities within the team. While doing that, keep things as actionable as possible, so that it’s easier for team members to take in instructions and understand what they need to be doing.
Leverage project management tools such as Trello, Asana, and SmartTask to manage the overall workload, divide responsibilities, keep track of what everyone is doing, and proactively get to know when your team members have hit a roadblock. Also, this playbook by Atlassian is a great resource on how you can go about defining roles and giving structure to your team.
The well-defined structure within a beehive is the foundation to everything that the bees do. And that’s no different for your team.
2. Communicate, communicate, and communicate
One of the reasons the bees are so efficient at their tasks is because they are really good at communicating. Bees usually have a few different ways to pass around information.
They use odor cues to decide when to mate and when not to, and also to alert the hive of intruders. There’s also the ‘waggle’ dance which is used to indicate where to find food.
While I’m not suggesting your team should try out dance moves to pass around information, effective communication and collaboration are a must. But, unfortunately, most organizations are falling short on this front.
Based on a study by Salesforce, 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
How do you fix communication roadblocks? How do you build team camaraderie – just like in a hive?
Have regular team-building exercises where team members get to know each other better. Ensure new joinees get acclimatized with their team members – this is something Nokia does really well. New employees are asked to set up meetings with everyone they will be working with, as part of the onboarding process. This helps in breaking the ice right at the start and establishing strong lines of communication.
For remote teams, where more communication gaps are bound to arise, it’s always best that everyone over-communicates rather than presuming that their co-workers already know something.
Neal Taparia, who runs brain training and gaming startup Solitaired, asks his team to send 100-word teamwide emails daily with updates, questions, and plans for the next day. “We found that emails, which take just a few minutes to send, dramatically improved our communication and productivity. Not only were we on the same page, but the transparency created more accountability. We used to release one solitaire game per week, and after this change, we now release close to two.”
3. Clutter is your nemesis
Not sure if it’s OCD but bees are particular about keeping their hives extremely clean. They make it a habit to remove all dead larvae, waste material, and other debris from the hive. In fact, beekeeping experts describe a beehive as ‘one of the most sterile and cleanest natural environments’.
Similarly, in the business world, teams deal with such debris on a daily basis. It’s commonly known as clutter.
Clutter is anything and everything that hampers productivity. It could be a messy desk, unread emails, social media notifications, or even constant follow-ups from a co-worker.
According to a Udemy survey, nearly 3 out of 4 workers (70%) admit they feel distracted when they’re on the job, with 16% asserting that they’re almost always distracted.
So, how can you help your team deal with clutter just like how bees deal with debris in the hive?
For emails, it’s best for your team to only check their inboxes during fixed time slots throughout the day. Also, using filters to file incoming emails make it easier to go through them.
Moreover, if you and your team work out of a common group email to manage incoming queries, a platform like Hiver would help you streamline emails and collaborate faster.
And if your team is working remotely, it’s best to set guidelines for virtual collaboration — how long should one wait before following up? What are the preferred communication channels one should stick to? This ensures team members don’t get bombarded by messages and are able to strike a balance between deep, focused work and collaborating with co-workers.
The phrase ‘busy as a bee’ is derived from the fact that bees are one of the most energetic and hardworking living beings. But as hard as they hustle individually, it’s their innate ability to work together as a team that makes the hive stronger and keeps everyone safe.
That’s probably the biggest takeaway for team leaders – no matter how good every team member is, it’s always about the collective.