One of my favorite quotes and anchor points for my presentations is adapted from a quote from a John Le Carre book, something from which I generated two different cartoons. Now, I have solid research to back this up.

The quote:
A Desk is a Dangerous Place from Which to View The World.

The Cartoon:

Some interesting research on decision-making and teamwork comes from research on worker bees. You know, the ones that get all the work done. The research is done by a biologist named Thomas Seeley and it relates to 20 years of research. The subjects? Worker bees. Yes, real ones. The situation is wonderfully described in the March 2012 issue of Smithsonian and can be viewed at

But let me digress and come back to my initial quotation. My direct experience with Square Wheels cartoons led me to ask Roy Sabean, my artist, for an illustration that looked like this:

Making a decision by yourself might be fast, but it also might be wrong. Or, it might lack a bit of data or the perspective of others like those in other departments that it impacts of those in the chain of command that it might impact negatively.


Yes, there IS a chain of command…

So, this article about how bees make a decision is most fascinating. The situation is that there is a swarm of bees that need a new home — and the optimal hive requires about 10 gallons of space or it will not allow the storage of enough honey for survival plus it needs a small opening that can be defended. It takes from a couple of hours to a few days to make a decision.

Scouts go out and search around and then return. They dance. They dance in a circle, climbing on top of the swarm where the angle of the waggle and time time they spend dancing give direction and distance information to others, who also go out to check the location. So, one bee informs and engages others, who return and repeat.

Enthusiasm also conveys information by engaging more others to check things out — call it recruitment and swarm intelligence. So that scout goes back and forth, communicating each time. But the number of dance repetitions might decrease if the site is not all that good, which helps the swarm to differentiate good sites from mediocre ones. The test found that the swarm will select the optimal site 80% of the time (based on controlled conditions). Think any manager makes isolated decisions that good in your organization?

The research makes some analogies between bees and brain cells. It relates to leadership, since the Queen Bee in a swarm actually supports the swarm but makes no apparent decisions, especially as to selecting a hive that will work to sustain the group. And they all pretty much share the same goal with the same alignment and a high level of engaged enthusiasm, working together. They propose lots of ideas, get lots of involvement and make group decisions that incorporate a great deal of information on their Big Decisions.

Have fun out there! Bee there!!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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