Workplace Lessons From a Beehive

Strong Leadership and Clear Communication

A bee colony acts as one creature. But no matter how big the colony (whether 10,000 or 40,000 members strong) there is only one queen. And only she is able to manage the colony and give birth to new bees. Management in an overpopulated colony -- a tight space -- and complete darkness, is done by smell. Well, by pheromone actually. A healthy queen produces enough pheromone to send instructions to even the farthest part of the beehive.

If the queen is ill, weak or old, she doesn’t produce enough pheromone to reach the bees, so they don't get any instructions at all. These bees therefore start producing their own pheromone, reporting a lack of management. The less the queen is able to produce her pheromone, the more complaints there are, and the clearer the message becomes about bad management.

If this message is strong enough to reach the “top management” bees that work directly around the queen, they’ll replace her.

Pretty similar to the business world! The whole company works as one team, with one common goal, but only if the CEO is able to share her vision and goals with every member of the colony throughout the year -- even with the newest members and those in faraway locations.

Employees quickly pick up on management weaknesses. Strength and transparency in management is paramount to maintaining a cohesive, healthy hive.

Where I work we have monthly meetings in which our CEO shares company news and important updates as well as invites speakers to give live feedback on our work and product. All employees are included and questions and feedback are encouraged. It’s also an opportunity to praise those who have gone the extra mile in the pursuit of our common goal. It’s a strong and transparent pheremone that builds an engaged and knowledgeable colony.

Respond Organically to Opportunities


A bee has many careers in her lifetime. Just two hours after birth, she starts as a cleaner. She then becomes a feeder, then a nurse, then a comb builder, then a guard and, finally, she becomes a collector of nectar and pollen.

Knowing that some trees (especially Linden) only flower for a limited time, many beekeepers feed sugar water to the colony ahead of flowering time to encourage the queen to lay more eggs. This is to ensure a large number of bees will be at nectar collector phase in time for the Linden tree flowering.

These beekeepers are missing the point. The fact is that colonies are agile, and bees are cross-functional workers. Left to their own management, the opportunity of the Linden tree flowering would mean some lucky young comb builder would be quickly promoted to Nectar Collector to leverage the limited time of plenty. So despite very clear roles and jobs, the colony works as a whole and responds organically to the circumstance with cross-functional team players.

In the business world, excuses such as “not enough testers” or “not enough db specialists” are no longer valid in the delivery of a product. Agile working ensures a cross-functional approach, making the team -- not the individual -- responsible for delivery and getting the job done.

Not an easy task to achieve, but SCRUM methodology and the agile approach have helped us at Kentico for the past two years get closer and closer to the hive ideal.

Listen to Every Voice

Bees cover a 3-mile radius (17,791 acres of land) in their hunt for flowers that are currently in bloom and offering nectar. A bee that finds a particularly large or tasty spot doesn’t just make return visits for himself, but communicates his finding to the others. Directions, distance and quality of findings are communicated through the famous “waggle dance” -- where the number of turns he makes indicates the location of his treasure. Colleagues that question the quality of his findings will be offered a sampling of his collected nectar. The large and tasty spot can now be leveraged to its fullest by a well-informed taskforce.

So not only does the hive make the most of the given opportunity by constantly sharing useful information, but they are equipped to respond as a team ensuring efficiency and success for the whole colony.

The next time you spoon some honey in your tea, think of the lessons my latest hobby taught me:

  1. Strength and transparency in management is paramount to maintaining a cohesive, healthy hive. Each employee should understand the company vision and his role and importance in it.
  2. As well as having very clear individual and team roles, the colony should work as a whole and respond organically to the given circumstances with cross-functional team players.
  3. Constant communication and feedback is essential in the healthy progress of any individual or team and has the result of guiding the company, team by team, towards their common goal of success.