Improve Workplace Harmony By Taking A Look at the Leafcutter Ant [VIDEO]

Leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants work together, industriously gathering pieces of leaves many times their own body weight and carrying them back to the nest. (Photo by Jon Pinder, Flickr)

Have you ever been with a group of people who just can’t seem to work together? Unfortunately, a toxic workplace is fairly common these days. There always seem to be the employees who  don’t want to carry their load, are eager to stab one another in the back, and who aren’t about to help out a fellow colleague because they are simply too concerned about putting themselves first. What should a manager do who supervises those who exhibit this behavior?

We could all learn a lesson about working together harmoniously from a tiny insect known as the leafcutter ant. When I was a student at university, one of my biology classes was held at the Cincinnati Zoo where we learned about these amazing creatures. I mean, this is a species who could define the term “unity.” These strong little lumberjacks work together all day long, cutting through practically anything that grows. Then they carry their cuttings back to the nest, forming one streamlined conveyor system that doesn’t let anything get in its way. Back at the nest, the leaves are turned into fungus, which ultimately becomes  food for the entire population.

But what would happen if some of these ants started to develop a “me first” attitude? Say one ant, we’ll call him Antonio, decides that no one can tell him what to do, and so he finds another plant to cut by himself, away from everyone else. Then there’s Ikram who won’t lift a finger to help Ryan carry a leaf that is too difficult for him to carry on his own. And don’t forget about Neil, who seems to wander off for hours on end, only to show up for coffee breaks or lunch periods. If all these different ants lost sight of the big picture, of providing enough leafy material to turn into the food it takes to nourish their entire community, everyone would eventually go hungry and the entire nest could wither and die.

Are human organizations any different? If a company’s employees think only about what is good for the individual, rather than what is good for the company as a whole, pretty soon the business will fail. Even if there are one or two employees who work circles around everyone else, eventually they will burn out and the structure of the organization will begin to deteriorate and crumble. That’s why good management is key.

A strong manager won’t simply abdicate authority, but will pay close attention to what his employees are doing, and more importantly, how they are working together. He or she will thoughtfully guide and mentor employees who seem to get off track. But when one of his staff is unwilling to work as a team and see the importance of teamwork the way the leafcutter ants do, then drastic measures need to be taken.

Eventually, the lazy team member may simply have to be cut loose before the entire infrastructure starts to break down. Maintaining a good workflow with a common goal in view is vital for the well being of the entire unit. So the next time someone in your organization stops carrying his or her weight, remember the leafcutter ant and the importance of working together in unity.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to Improve Workplace Harmony By Taking A Look at the Leafcutter Ant [VIDEO]

  1. Jathan Fink says:

    Reblogged this on Jadeworks Entertainment and commented:

    When employees have a “me first” attitude, the integrity of a company’s infrastructure becomes volatile. Teams can learn a lesson in the importance of working together in unity by studying a little insect known as the leafcutter ant.

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