In an effort to do a fun activity with my four year old son, I recently started a little project that captured the results of teamwork over a sustain period of time.  This idea stemmed from my son asking for a pet, and me wanting to find a simple, easy, maintenance free alternative.

Working in in a group, sticking together, unified projectsI reference this as a “project,” because when I helped my boy select and purchase our Ant Farm, I had an underlying motive to observe the teamwork exhibited by these insects.  Ants are known for their teamwork, and used as an example in the book The Team Approach.  My intent was not just simply observing them, but documenting them for others to see.  Our period of observation lasted 14 days and below are a few observations of Ant teamwork in action:

  1. Upon the ants being placed into the farm, they immediately began to work.  It was clear they had a combined objective which was to find a way to the light which represents the surface.  It was from the very beginning that teamwork to accomplish the task at hand is everyone’s responsibility.  The mission for the ants was to dig tunnels and from minute one they all appeared committed to this goal.
  2. When one ant gets trapped due to a tunnel collapse, a small portion of the team stops working and focuses solely on freeing the pinned individual.  They value each team member and the contribution they make.  These ants seemed very aware of the needs of others and willingly offered help when the pressure was on.
  3. They have clearly defined processes of where to dig tunnels and where to remove and place the excavated waste from the tunnel.  They even have a process on where to put deceased ants and ant waste.  Unfortunately, all of our Ants did not survive our observation period.
  4. They project was running 24 hours a day.  Some ants sleep or rest, while others continued the work.  Once they have completed an element of their mission, they move onto the next one.  They work with an intensity any organizations team would want.
  5. They work well across functions because of a shared vision to guide their actions.  If ants were digging from two separate points towards each other, they were always able to meet in the middle.
  6. There is a strong sense of community and the ants appear to be connected and unified.  One of the ways ants communicate with each other is by touching each other’s Antenna.  In a strong community, community, communication is openly shared and people feel safe and secure to persist through challenges.

It makes the point that even lower life forms create organizations and team with roles, structures, and processes for their leaders and members.

– Team Team Approach

See this teamwork in action for yourself and watch the video clip below.  There are approximately 25 ants working together over a period of 14 day.  Through time lapse you can observe these 14 day in under 1 minute.

From the beginning of this project, it was clear that Teamwork in and of itself would be required between a father and his young curious son.   Aside from my boy moving the camera, moving the ant farm, turning off the computer, or turning on the lights, it was a success.

In many ways, ant colonies are similar to human organizations: they work, play, and keep pets.  Although small, they are incredibly strong.  Often ants will team up, two or more to drag a caterpillar that is several times their weight back to the colony. – Team Team Approach

An interesting fact:  It is estimated that there are 1,666,666 ants to every one human being

–Antworks, Fascinations, 2004

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About the Author
Chris Stowell
Christopher Stowell is currently serving as CMOE’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing where he works with multi-national organization to develop their people. His special interests lie in coaching teamwork, strategy, e-learning, and assessment design, and delivery. Chris has a special talent in helping companies assess their organizational effectiveness and identifying key issues and opportunities in order to advance their performance and achieve long term results. Additionally, he has extensive experience in designing, coordinating, and facilitating customized adventure based experiential training events for high performance teams.

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