Consider the ant

I just returned from visiting Nigeria for a week and half and as is the case with most trips, I end up stumbling on a couple of object lessons that I find useful and applicable.  I’ll try to share a few over the next couple of days.

Self-organization is a quality many teams talk about wanting to have yet our traditional organizational methods have created structures where people are always looking for someone else to provide direction on what to do.  Many times, teams are at a standstill until a single individual is available.  Dare I say, that is an unhealthy situation.

I had a valuable lesson shared with me while visiting home.  As I was walking (yes, we’re next door neighbors) from my house to my grandfathers house, I observed a colony of solider ants (ijere in my local dialect) in the middle of the path probably relocating from one home to another in a neat, well organized column.  Subconsciously, yet exhibiting (bad) habits developed as a child, I kicked the ground where the ants where and disrupted their column.  I chuckled about it as I recalled also doing that as a child and continued on my way to Papa’s and Mama’s home and gave no further thought to it.

A couple of hours later after visiting with them, I decided to go back home.  When I got to spot where the ants were, I noticed that they were back in order and moving along as if nothing had happened.  Now, this is something I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands) of times, but I stopped to think about how it is that they were back in order.  Without going deep into the study of ants, each other basically helps each other (as much as is possible) get back into line by leaving a scent (pheremone) that they each follow.  All the ants are dependent on each other.  There is total dependence and each ant is very important for the success of its fellow ant.


In order for self-organization to actually happen, members of a team should be dependent on each other and not just on one (or few) person(s).  This puts the team in the best position to respond to change in a dynamic and fluid manner.

Is your team self-organizing?  Consider the ant (but don’t get bitten!)

**Credit for picture goes to


2 Replies to “Consider the ant”

  1. Excellent! The most eloquent explanation of self-organisation and teamwork I think I’ve come across. Simple and to the point.

    Another interesting distinction is the difference between teams and groups. Your ants are acting as a team, with each individual sharing in a common goal. Very often in our hierarchical organisations we talk of teams when really we mean groups. Whilst groups may share a common space, with each member playing lip service to common rules and policies, unlike teams they do not in reality share a common goal.

    Without teams there is no teamwork.


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