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Difference and challenge in teams
Difference and challenge in teams

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1.2 The bee colony

Countless worker bees spread out from the hive in search of nectar. Different bees end up at different nectar sources, and on their return, perform intricate dances for their co-workers. The dances convey details of where to find abundant blooms. But how to decide on the best source, where the flowers are most full of nectar and where the colony should direct its efforts?

Due to their differing experiences in the field, workers have different suggestions for what is ‘best’ for the team: their perspectives are in conflict.

Figure 2 Bees transfer vital information about nectar sources through waggle dances

The more abundant a nectar source, the more vigorous the dance of the returned bee. So when a number of bees return excitedly from the same patch of flowers, there is more chance that the location will become a part of the ‘social information’ held by others in the colony. These bees out-compete the directions given by other bees dancing less vigorously. Some more recent studies of bee behaviour suggest that ‘private information’ held by individual bees (e.g. the memory of where they found nectar on a previous foraging trip) is also at play.

Guidance given by different team members is both challenging to and challenged by the experience and guidance given by others.

Despite such difference and challenge, it is clear that, in a stable bee colony, all effort is directed towards the same objective: the survival of that colony.

To spell out some learning from this metaphor: highly effective groups of collaboratoes can be full of challenge and difference.

To summarise the points we are emphasising through these two metaphors: highly effective groups of collaborators – teams that seem to travel together – can be full of challenge and difference.