Are your employees busy little bees?

I think this bee is trying to tell us something...

I think this bee is trying to tell us something...

You may want to start asking your employees to act less like salmon (swim upstream, spawn, die) and more like bees.  No, I don’t mean they should be making honey on their spare time or setting their stingers on people they feel have threatened them.  But employees can mimic their communication patterns to become more productive employees. 

Here are some details, using an excerpt I found in the February 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review.  Skip to the Coles Notes version below if you know you’ve got only 2.2 seconds before you get interrupted by a coworker’s question. 

“One of the most important group decisions made by a bee colony is where to locate the hive.  Bees use a kind of “idea market” to guide their discovery:  The colony sends out a small number of scouts to survey the environment.  Returning scouts that have found promising sites signal their discoveries with a vigorous dance, thus recruiting more scouts to the better sites.  The cycle of exploration and signaling continues until so many scouts are signaling in favor of the best site that a tipping point is reached. 

The bees’ decision making highlights both information discovery and information integration, two processes that are crucial to every organization but that have different requirements.  A centralized structure works well for discovery, because the individual’s role is to find information and report it back.  In contrast, a richly connected network works best for integration and decision making, because it allows the individual to hear everyone else’s opinion about the expected return from each of the alternatives.” 

Here’s the Coles Notes version and what it means to you:  when researching and developing ideas, the less people involved the better and create a centralized communication structure to gather the ideas.  But when it’s time to implement these ideas and make decisions, expand the network to get the input and expertise of others to get the best results. 

Further, research has shown that there is a link between productivity and how information flows.  Employees who have extensive networks using Web 2.0 tools (e.g. Wikis, blogs, LinkedIn to name a few), were 7% more productive than those who didn’t use the tools.  However, employees using face-to-face communication were 30% more productive.  Huh. 

Web 2.0 is getting a lot of buzz lately (pardon the pun) but are we forgetting to tell the employees that it’s okay to go hang out at the water cooler?  There is a time and place for the latest and greatest social networking tools but when it comes to making the ideas happen, you may be better off creating avenues for discussion, like buying staff lunch and asking them to just sit around and (gulp!) talk.


One Response

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more….”idle chatter” as some would like to call it, creates team building among employees and allows them to feel connected – especially those staff who might not interact with other staff on a daily basis. That connection leads to trust and trust is where good ideas happen.

    Nothing beats a great conversation with co-workers and sharing of ideas in a relaxed non-pressured environment.

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