Organizational teams need early movers

Why do I always have to take the garbage out : new social network research may explain why some team tasks just never get done.


There is a fascinating piece of research “What Ants and Bees Tell Us about Social Network Theory” reported by Rebecca Booker, January 2004.

It concerns how social insects divide their labour and may give us an important clue to a major problem in organisational teams - why certain tasks never seem to get completed on time.

The research proposes a “threshold sensitivity model” for the division of labour.

In simple terms this means that each individual bee or ant in a hive or colony has a built-in genetic disposition concerning their "tolerance for certain tasks to be left undone".

For example, when a bee hive exhibits reduced levels of pollen some bees will immediately begin to gather pollen at the very first signs of reduced pollen levels.

If all these ‘early mover’ bees are removed then the other bees will not compensate and will only join in when the pollen levels become much lower. (These bees are not 'lazy' - they may in fact be 'early movers' in other important tasks).

The application to human teams?

When we constitute our teams we often only consider the competence of individuals to do certain tasks.

This research suggests that it may be equally important to also consider the tolerance of individual team members for the task not being done.

If we neglect this we could have team which is highly competent in certain tasks but unfortunately contains no ‘early movers’ in the task.

This places the team at a risk that nobody will act quickly enough in actually initiating these tasks in time for them to be successful.

And in today's high pressure teams trying to operate distributed team leadership models this could be a real problem.

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