Group Messaging Instincts: how to recover them

Biological teams make extensive use of short messages as their main means of communication: Ants use chemical messages, Bees use visual messages conveyed through dance and Dolphins use sonar, however most human teams seem to have forgotten their Messaging Instincts.


The Messaging Instinct

I call this natural method of communications The Messaging Instinct.

When you analyse these types of message-based communications further you quickly notice that across species and communications media the underlying systems all share certain common characteristics:

  1. Peer systems - Every one in the group or team communicates like this - not just the leaders or elders
  2. The messages are sent and instantly received ‘in situ’ – in other words the messages come from and go to wherever the other members of the group happen to be – they are not stored for processing later
  3. They are predominantly ‘one to many’ broadcast messages (‘shouts’) with some ‘one to one’ messages (‘whispers’) but not much ‘one to some’ messages (‘gossips’) - See Team communication patterns: key lessons from nature for more
  4. They often only use one-way messages – the receiver can take action (or not) without having to reply first – this makes it incredibly fast and responsive

Have Human groups lost The Messaging Instinct?

I contend that human groups, possibly because we are so advanced at complex and long conversations have largely forgotten their Messaging Instincts.

Human electronic communications today, with the exception of young people, is based more on documents than messages.

What do I mean by document-based communications: essentially email /attachments being exchanged electronically.

Just to clarify the difference between a message and a document:

a message is a simple single topic communications signal which may or may not merit a response signal

a document is a complex multi-message communication transaction each component of which may require further complex communications

Learning from the Short Message Generation

The Messaging Instinct might have been lost to humankind forever (and never even noticed that it had been lost) had today's younger generation not stumbled into the SMS (Short Message Service) and IM (Instant Message) phenomena on their mobile phones and computers.

So one of the central foundations of bioteaming is helping human teams, social groups and business networks recover their lost Messaging Instincts.

And the technology change which now enables this: Short Messaging, Instant Messaging and presence technologies– digital pheromones for humans!

For more on bioteaming see The Bioteaming Manifesto.

About the Author

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:

Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature’s Best Designs

The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks

Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.

Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more response and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques. The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps musicians and bands form a unique collaboration with their fans for mutual benefit.

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The Organizational Zoo

I was introduced to an interesting book and web site, The Organizational Zoo, by Arthur Shelley which offers humorous observations of the characteristics and behaviours of the other creatures in your "organizational Zoo".

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