What Ants Can Teach Us About Collaboration

I have just returned from a trip to Zambia. Apart from meeting some amazing people there were some differences in the landscape too. We came across many large ant or termite hills. Some a number of metres high. Quite amazing. Inside each ant hill there are thousands of ants functioning at quite a complex level building the equivalent for us of a city. The secret ant colonies have worked out is the art of collaboration.

Fun facts about ants:

  • The ant is one of the world’s strongest creatures in relation to its size – A single ant can carry 50 times its own bodyweight, and they’ll even work together to move bigger objects as a group!
  • There are over 12,000 ant species worldwide – Ranging from the ant you might find scuttling across your picnic to the ants building underground fortresses in the rainforest!
  • Ants are social insects which live in colonies – The colony, also called a formicary, is made up of one or more egg-laying queens and a large amount of female “worker” ants who tend to her, build and maintain the nest, forage for food and care for the young. Male ants have wings, and their only function is to mate with the queen.
  • The largest ant’s nest ever found was over 3,700 miles wide! – Found in Argentina in 2000, the ginormous colony housed 33 ant populations which had merged into one giant super colony, with millions of nests and billions of workers!

Although small and individually not capable of much, together they achieve far more. Each ant knows it’s role within the colony, as the different roles are exercised great things are done.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan

Lessons on Collaboration from Ants

1. Clarity of Role

One of the reasons ants are successful is that they are clear on what their role is. There are worker ants which collect food, remove rubbish, make repairs. Soldier ants which guard the colony. In teams it is crucial that each person is clear about what their specific role is. Not only that but how that role fits into the bigger vision. Team members want to know that their activity makes a difference and helps the team to reach the goal for which they came together.

2. Effective Communication

Ants leave a trail so other ants can find a food source one of them has come across. For the colony to work effectively the communication between them is vital. In teams communication can easily be compromised. Understanding each other and being clear as the leader about the purpose of your communication and the outcome you want is key. Model good communication and it will become a standard in your team.

3. Interdependence

An ant on their own doesn’t last very long. It is the mutual support and interdependence that gives the ants their strength and success as a colony. In your team how good is the support you give as leader and the support demonstrated between team members. One of us is never as strong as all of us when you are pulling in the same direction.

4. Adaptable

Stuff happens ant hills get damaged, maybe they flood. A successful colony adapts to the changes in their environment, or they don’t survive. The world in which organisations operate is fast changing which means a different approach is needed in leadership. Adaptability depends on a principle and values driven approach in your leadership. It means delegating authority and empowering your team members leaving you free to do the things only you can do.

I hope you have taken something away from looking at ants. To make get the best out of your team and learn how to implement these lessons get in touch for a no obligation discovery call. You can reach me on mark@smartculture.uk

To your success.

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

Scroll to Top