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Listen to the Bees – Work In Silos!

Honeybee hives can teach organisations a lot about efficient and efficacious models of teamwork.

You may – or may not – know that Mrs Jez and I are beekeepers

As we launch the nationwide expansion of Bees for Business, I’ve written this short article on what observing the honeybee teaches about working more effectively, communicating better and more efficient teamwork in your organisation.

During the peak, summer season the average honeybee hive can contain as many as 100,000 bees. Each of those bees have a role to play to ensure the smooth running of the colony. Most work in silos and while many corporate leaders, business consultants and business trainers deplore the idea of working in silos, I’m here to tell you that it’s a good thing! Silos are BRILLIANT! 

As a beekeeper, I’m going to take you on a tour of my honeybee hive as an analogy to help explain why you should reconsider working in silos…

Each bee in a honeybee hive has a role to play. They each do their role extremely well because they work in their own little silo, getting really good at what they do because that’s, largely, all they do. But here’s the rub…

Just like where you work, everyone has their own important role to play.

When things don’t go to plan; perhaps there’s not as much pollen around as can happen in June when there’s a transition of early and later flowering plants, for example, there’s a sudden change in focus and the bees pull together, putting more time into foraging for pollen in order to increase their honey stores. Another example would be if the queen bee dies, or gets old and less capable, the bees all pull together to make queen cells. So, while the bees each have their own specific role, as I’ll explain next, they aren’t completely oblivious as to what the other bees do and when they need support, or the colony as a whole requires assistance in a different area, each of the bees adapt to ensure the success of the colony. If during the course of their work or travels around the beehive they happen to find a hole, or some damage, they’ll immediately set to repairing it – often using propolis as it’s strong and sticky, a bit like nature’s very own expanding foam. So, working in silos is a good thing, providing you have sensitivity and awareness of the other silos.

Here’s a quick overview of the various roles the 100,000 bees do and how they relate to your organisation:

  • The Queen Bee is probably the most famous of them all – she gets most of the attention and more people talk about queen bees than any of the other bees. She’s your senior leadership team: the pivotal member of the hive, without whom, there is no leadership, no calmness and no direction. However, if you watch the queen, she really doesn’t make a big song and dance about it – she lays eggs (up to 2,000 a day) and emits a pheromone so that all the bees in the colony know she’s there, which they need in order to feel safe and go about their work. Far from interfering or taking over, the queen bee knows and trusts the other bees to fulfil their individual roles. You’ll often see her walking around doing her own thing, checking the state of the hive, looking for space to lay and maybe – just maybe – strutting with a sense of proud achievement while no one’s looking.

What can we learn? That’s the sign of a great leader, isn’t it? One who understands the value of their team and trusts them to get on with what they do best. One who observes from a distance and intervenes only when necessary. One who leads from the front.

  • The so-called “Nursery Bees” are – perhaps suitably-so – a bit like your HR department. They are dedicated to ensuring the health and wellbeing of new bees: nursery bees feed larvae and cap over the cells the queen bee has laid in, promoting the growth and development of brand new bees in the colony.

What can we learn? Each of the bees have a very specific role and the nursery bees are no different. Their success is based on a complete fixation on nurturing and developing new talent, without which the colony will collapse. It’s all very well the queen laying new eggs, or your leadership team securing new

  • The “Guard Bees” are akin to your marketing or PR department. These ladies ensure that no one else enters the beehive that isn’t supposed to be there. If there’s even so much as a whiff of a wasp, they’ll fan a pheromone into the air using their wings to alert other bees of a possible intruder, helping to restore balance.

What can we learn? Public relations is so much more than tweeting and writing magazine articles – it is as much about ensuring internal communications nurture and encourage the philosophies and core messages of the organisation, as well as ensuring that outside perception of the organisation is one of competence and professionalism.

  • The “Undertaker” Bees have as solemn a job as it sounds. They eject dead bees and any intruders who have been killed. This ensures the hive is clean, tidy and kept disease free.

What can we learn? There’s always a job that  is less than ideal in most people eyes. Do you give sufficient consideration, or thanks, to the office cleaning team? What about the time taken to clean the toilets after each use, ensuring good hygiene standards. Our bees really understand how important it is to keep on top of health and hygiene.

  • The “Worker Bees” do exactly as you’d expect. They fly to and from the hive with each trip visiting as many as 2,000 flowers or pollen sources per day! All this activity to make honey and how much honey exactly? Well, the average lifespan of a honeybee is about 28 days and in that time, foraging for pollen and producing honey, she’ll make just 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. That’s partly why there have to be so many bees in a colony.

Despite visiting up to 2,000 flowers a day, the honeybee produces just 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

What can we learn? Hard work pays off but it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve success on your own. Whatever you do in whatever endeavour, you’re likely to need the help of others to achieve it. The phrase “teamwork makes the dream work” makes me want to roll around in broken glass, whilst chewing drawing pins but in the case of the honeybee it is – reluctantly – true. Their individual output may well be tiny but it is the collective strength that is what makes the honeybee such a remarkable insect that we can learn so much from.

  • The Hive.  And finally there is, of course, the beehive itself. A structure built to ensure bees can perform at their very best, are safe and have the physical structure they need to carry out their jobs efficiently, likened in this example to your own working environment. There are considerations when siting a beehive to ensure it is safe, sheltered and within relatively easy access of sources of pollen. Bees will defend their beehive from unwanted intruders such as wasps, mice and bees from other colonies; they are understandably proud of their home and a lot of work goes into keeping the hive clean, safe and tidy.

What can we learn? Pride in the environment you work in makes a difference to our efficiency, how effective we are and our wellbeing at work. We should dedicate time to ensuring our working environments are enjoyable to be in, tidy and efficient, in order to maximise our productivity and workplace happiness.

Why not join us on the farm for a day learning about honeybees? We’ve got a brand new course ‘Beekeeping for Beginners’ on 15th July and run team building and business activity days exploring what honeybees can teach us about more efficient and effective working models.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster, award-winning author and Faculty Lead of the innovative research programme, The Good Life Project, evidencing the impact of nature on workplace health, wellbeing and behaviour. Ambassadors include the Soil Association and broadcaster Kate Humble. He is co-founder of Bees for Business, installing and maintaining beehives for businesses across England.

One Comment

  • Monica Mayorquin

    Great article Jez! Loved it! Really live it!

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