What Fire Ants and Meerkats Can Teach Us about Building a Strong Team
What did the ant say to the entrepreneur? There’s a great joke in there somewhere, but for now, we’ve got something more serious to discuss: nurturing a team that will help grow your business.
Building a strong team for your company is about more than finding the right employees.Our animal and insect friends have instincts for sacrifice, bonding, and survival that often far outperform our own species’, and as entrepreneurs and businesswomen, we can learn a lot from this type of collaboration.
Commit to Your Life’s Purpose
Some of the deepest lessons about business are right under our noses—or under our feet, in this case.
Ants spend their lives working tirelessly to build their colony. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not working in service of the queen. Instead, ants work for their community, each unquestioningly playing his or her role. Scientists think ants don’t know why they’re working so hard— that they don’t see the bigger picture — but they do it, anyway, because it’s their mission in life.
Likewise, we accomplish great things when we each use our individual talents to contribute to the greater good of the company, and giving everything we’ve got only happens when we feel like we’re working toward a worthwhile mission. Whether you’re a leader or a behind-the-scenes coordinator, you’ve got the most to offer when you’re being true to your purpose.
Work for the Good of the Group
Meerkats in Africa display incredible altruism despite harshdesert conditions and limited resources. They share their food with others, babysit other meerkat young, and help each other keep watch for predators — whatever the group needs.
A man at my company is a constant naysayer at team meetings. Sounds like a bad thing, right? But this man who always plays devil’s advocate has saved us a tremendous amount of time and resources. Likewise, our team “dreamer” is always pushing us to look beyond our expectations, even when it seems unrealistic.
These two people give my team an enormous gift by sharing their individual perspectives, even if their opinions won’t be popular with their co-workers. Just like the meerkats, you need team members who are more concerned about the good of the whole than their own personal well-being.
Penguins show remarkable selflessness, which contributes to their survival in harsh Arctic conditions. After a female penguin lays an egg, the male emperor penguin spends two months protecting the egg while the mother hunts. The father doesn’t take his turn looking for food until the mother penguin returns with a belly full of food for their soon-to-hatch baby.
As entrepreneurs, we’re often willing to make incredible sacrifices in service of our goals. That includes going the extra mile to make our employees feel valued and appreciated. Consider not only your company’s goals, but also the personal goals of each employee. Be aware of the sacrifices they make and the commitment they have toward your business, and be the first to acknowledge their hard work and show your appreciation.
Forge Unbreakable Bonds
Fire ants have an incredible ability to form a community raft in water. While individual fire ants can’t stay afloat for long, a group of fire ants will cling to each other, locking legs, claws, and bodies to make a virtually unsinkable raft.
In any company, everyone must be doing his or her part to grow the business. You define the goals, make the plan, and assign tasks, but it takes the cooperation of everyone at your company to accomplish your shared dream.
Make your team members see how their roles are helping the business achieve its overarching mission, and always be willing to explain how one project is working toward a larger goal. After all, we're only as strong as our weakest link, and your team will work as a more effective unit when they can see the big picture.
Work Together — Naturally
We’re often faced with daunting challenges, and it’s easy to forget that the simplest things are often the most important. Building cooperation in your company is essential to success. No ant colony, gang of meerkats, or business can function at its best without the unflagging commitment of every team member.
Be authentic to your purpose, work to build strong, genuine relationships, and create an environment where everyone is committed to work for the good of the team. Encourage cooperation instead of competition, and inspire people to share in your company’s mission. You’ll never find out how much you can accomplish until you work together — naturally.
September Dohrmann is the COO of CEO Space International. Her role in the company encompasses rebranding, HR, office management, and finding external solutions for the company. CEO Space believes in cooperation among businesses; they seek to build a community that encourages, educates, and fosters new relationships with like-minded people in a conference setting.
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