Those tiny creatures we either ignore, see as pests and want to eradicate or even kill, can teach us a thing or two about the world of business.
If they were businesspeople they’d probably own everything on the planet. The good thing is we are able to observe them and learn from them. We can break down their traits bit by bit and try to integrate these traits into our business process, thus making our businesses or departments more productive.
I urge you to take the time and reflect about the traits that these ants have, and how you can apply them to yourself, team, department or the business as a whole.
One study from the Ant Lab at the University of Bristol, UK, researchers have observed that the Temnothorax Albipennis species of ants appeared to have both followers and leaders in seeking food.
When the foraging leader ants find a new source of food, they will haste back to the colony to tell the good news and lead other ants to the source. It is interesting to observe these leader ants teaching the follower ants as they journey along together.
As the follower ants learn the new route by recognising and remembering landmarks, they would be slower along the path than the leader ants. It was observed that the leader ants would actually slow down their journey to allow the follower ants to catch up with them.
In all aspects of training and instruction therefore, the leader ants appeared to be teaching the followers. In fact, it was shown that if the leader ants raced directly to the food on their own, they would arrive four times faster. Occasionally some leader ants grabbed the followers by the mouth and dragged them to the source of the food! This was three times faster than having a follower tag along.
Leading and teaching the followers to memorise landmarks and to communicate by tapping their antennae was a much slower process. Yet most of the time, the leader ants appeared willing to teach the followers at the personal cost of slowing down their own efficiency and effectiveness.
The leader and follower ants were running together in tandem and this action also involved bidirectional feedback between mentor and mentee. If the gap between the leader and follower was too close, the leader accelerated its pace. If the gap was too far, the leader slowed down. Meanwhile, the follower ants were also seen to tap the leaders with their antennae when they caught up, seemingly providing acknowledgement and encouragement to proceed to the next step.
So what lessons about communication, teamwork and leadership can we learn from these ants?
Ants live in colonies consisting of millions of individuals. They don’t have leaders. Although there is the queen ant, she doesn’t tell the other ants what to do. Every ant knows their own roles and carries out their tasks faithfully. They are able to work together effectively because they all have the same goal for the good and unity of the colony.
Here are 8 attributes of the ant we can implement in our lives.
1. Flexibility. whatever the obstacle, the ant has the flexibility to go around it, over it, under it… Flexibility makes the ant comfortable in all situations.
They get the job done, whatever hurdles they face. Such hurdles make them stronger and more united as a unit. Similarly, we should persevere to get our jobs done. Can you imagine what our businesses would be like if we all had that type of commitment?
2. Planning. When it is summer, it plans for the winter & vice versa. Planning makes the ant prepare for future challenges. They are organised in how they carry out a task, so they can achieve it, no matter how big the task seems.
When humans move together in such a way, we can move mountains. As a business leader or team supervisor, you should make it a point to get your team organised and and working toward the same goals. through such behaviours, it will be just a matter of time before the success of our actions is visible.
3. Patience. During the winter chill, it waits patiently for summer. Patience makes the ant relaxed in testing conditions. Ants don’t just eat the crumbs they find for themselves. They play the long game. They carry it back to their ant colony and and save up for that rainy day.
In business, you can never really tell what is around the corner. Both in terms of business resources and our relationship with the people around us, we should stock up the reserves for a rainy day. You never know when you will need someone else’s expertise, or when backup business funds or resources will be required. Be patient and plan ahead like our six legged friends, to ensure long term success.
4. Commitment. It does all that is possible, despite its size. Ants are not intimidated by the size of their workload. Commitment makes the ant a winner, whatever the workload.
We set goals we would like to achieve. Sometimes these may seem way bigger than what we can handle. It’s in situations like these when people tend to shy away from what their real goal is and try to map out goals which are easier to achieve. I mean, being realistic is important. If you set goals that aren’t attainable, you’ll only end-up frustrated and demotivated in the end. But what you should think about is the real reason why you made your goal easier. Is it because it isn’t really attainable, or are you intimidated by it?
5. Teamwork. Operating in a team. A single ant can only do so much, but as a team they can achieve incredible heights. They work together when carrying heavy loads, and through such leadership and teamwork, we also can achieve great things and our businesses can work like clockwork.
6. Team Intelligence. United, they build an ant hill, a master work of engineering where even the cooling effect is taken care of.
7. Leadership and Humility. Ants are great leaders, but they also have the humility to follow. Humility is strength, not weakness.
8. Communication Skills. Whilst moving in a line, they have perfect coordination, send feedback to the following ant, creating a network and well bound team.