Of ants and men: self organization in human and insect teams

Anderson, Carl and McMillan, Elizabeth (2003). Of ants and men: self organization in human and insect teams. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 5(2) pp. 29–41.

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To cope with today’s complex, fast-paced, and ever-changing business environment, companies need to shift their overall structure to produce adaptive, highly responsive organizations. The use of teams, particularly self-organized teams with their reactive, emergent properties, may be one way of achieving this goal. Humans, however, are not the only creatures to use such teams: insect societies (ants, bees, wasps, and termites) are enormously successful in their domain, also live in complex, rapidly changing environments, yet achieve this without any centralized control or management. In this study, we examine fundamental issues of teamwork, and question whether such teams really are analogous. After detailing some of the striking similarities, we conclude that they are indeed equivalent and comparable. Thus, our work is a preliminary study into whether nature—specifically, insect societies—may provide not just a valid metaphor but, moreover, a model for organizational shift and effective function in human enterprise.

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