Lessons from busy bees and beehives for businesses

There's a lot that businesses can learn from the industrious bees. Jez Rose writes.

It might seem an unlikely parallel but the phrase ‘busy bees’ is quite apt when it comes to business, and when it comes to working efficiently as a team, businesses could learn a lot from beehives and the way they operate. Bees seem to have a winning formula when it comes to working together and they have a lot to teach us as the workings of a healthy hive is a great metaphor for the life of a sustainable, successful business.

Be a leader who serves

We tend to think of the ‘Queen Bee’ as the leader of the hive, sitting regally while her workers do all the work. Despite her royal title, the role of the queen is crucial; she’s the one who has to lay up to two thousand eggs each day to ensure the survival of the colony. In reality, the ‘Queen Bee’ or in business terms, the boss, is the servant of the team. The same dynamic should exist in business, with managers putting into place long-term plans to ensure the success and growth of the company while the employees concentrate on the day-to-day running of the business.

Trust your workers

The ‘Queen Bee’ operates the C-suite and sets the mood of the whole hive but she doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the hive unless there’s an issue that can’t be resolved without her involvement. In the same way, business leaders and management teams should hire people who they can trust to do the job well, letting them get on with it. Management should help define the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, allowing staff to decide the ‘how’ wherever possible.

Silos can be good

Every worker bee needs to function purposefully and collaboratively to make the complex multi-dimensional operations of a beehive flow. However, that doesn’t mean that all the different working teams are constantly exchanging information or getting involved in each other’s work. Many businesses have tried to move away from silos in order to foster a collaborative environment, however this can backfire. Bees work best in silos and only when the need arises, for example when something is wrong, do they get involved in other bees’ work. The same should go for businesses’ different departments which operate best when they focus on dealing with workloads that require their expert knowledge rather than attempting to get involved in areas of the business they don’t have the necessary knowledge and experience for.

Meaningful communication is key

The bees’ ‘waggle dance’ is used to share complex and essential information about the direction and distance to pollen and water sources.

Businesses also need to ensure that communication isn’t taking place just for the sake of it.

Being copied into numerous irrelevant emails or being called into pointless meetings is distracting and inefficient. Instead, businesses and managers need to consider how they communicate and ensure that everyone involved will get the information they need rather than information irrelevant to their work.

See also: 6 tips for managers to create better relationships with their team

Businesses should learn the value of developing their own ‘waggle dance’ to communicate, ensuring that only salient, succinct and purposeful information is being shared and that it results in action.

Look after the hive

Any beekeeper or bee farmer knows that to ensure a beehive survives and produces honey, they need to keep investing in the bees and ensure their environment is right.

While for a beehive, factors such as temperature, humidity and air quality, can impact on its productivity, in business it’s about keeping staff motivated, inspired, informed and happy, having regular updates, monitoring staff well-being and ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goal.

By learning from the operation of a hive, you could make your business ‘the bee’s knees’!

Jez Rose is the corporate leader and founder of Bees for Business. This is an initiative of The Good Life Project, a research project and behaviour change programme focusing on health, wellbeing and nature.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.