This is an excerpt from The Team Approach by Steven Stowell.
Have you ever watched ants work? Watching the ants learn how to operate and adapt to the environment is fascinating. Ants are powerful little creatures. Left unchecked, a colony of ants can cut a fairly large swath through a jungle. Ants seem to subscribe to a specific set of rules, processes, and guidelines that apparently are hard-wired to their biology and allow them to create engineering marvels.
Generally, ants live in large colonies that possess an internal structure of roles that enable them to share their food and their work. Some ants act as housekeepers, picking up trash and depositing it in a trash room; some act like the police and maintain order. Other ants are nursemaids that watch over the nursery room in the colony, and others are tunnel miners, gardeners, and herders. We find that watching the work that goes on in an anthill is the most interesting dynamic in the insect world.
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. Female ants do all the work. The males do nothing except mate with the queens (unfortunately, after mating, they die). The workers (females) clean, gather food, nurture the young, and defend the colony against external threats: lizards, toads, spiders, birds, and weather. Without question, the queen is the leader in the ant hierarchy. She starts the organization and calls the shots. Ants are so effective in their work that some scientists believe that without natural predators, there would be far too many ants to deal with on earth.
If an ant stumbles upon a good food source (grubs, sugar, honeydew, a crumb, etc.), it grabs all it can carry and heads back to the colony. Often, the ant will stop a colleague passing by; the two have an ability to communicate with their feelers. The fortunate ant—the one that has discovered the food source—seems to say, “Hurry up and leverage the opportunity.” The teammate then picks up its pace and joins in.
Other ants are like supervisors: they urge the workers to carry as much food as possible back to the colony in their extra stomachs. These are sometimes called the “social” stomachs because ants are willing to feed others in the colony from their team stomachs. It makes the point that even lower life forms create organizations and teams with roles, structures, and processes for their leaders and members.
The word process means different things to different people. Webster defines process as something that is happening (progress or advancement of some kind). Webster also indicates that a process can be an “organic or natural series of changes leading to a result; in an organization it means actions or operations directed toward a particular outcome.”
A process is a protocol, mechanism, or operation that enables the team to function at peak performance. A team’s processes are helpful and agreed-upon activities, procedures, or methods that have been incorporated into the team’s way of conducting business. They represent a unique way of accomplishing its work or mission. Processes govern how a team goes about doing team task requirements and how team members collaborate, innovate, and achieve synergy through coordinated effort.
Processes are like the intellectual property of a team. If all the teams in an organization are brought together, along with their processes, the result is the makings of an organization’s unique, competitive advantage.