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Four lessons about teamwork from the meerkat

Meerkats – denizens of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa – by rights, they shouldn’t even be able to survive. They’re tiny; living in an inhospitable, dry and scorching environment; for all practical purposes, defenseless; and surrounded by predators. To add insult to injury, they have to dig for their food – and not just a little digging; but up to several times their body weight just to get one small morsel of a caterpillar or beetle larvae. Yet, cute, frenzied, tough and tenacious, survive they do, and quite successfully. Their secret? Teamwork.

  1. Share the load. The problem with having to dig for your food is that your head is down and your bottom is up, which means that you can easily become a tasty snack for a marauding eagle, or rock monitor, or venomous snake. So meerkats take turns in guard duty, standing up high on a rock or in a tree watching for predators while the rest of the team forages for food.
  2. Communicate. The sentry meerkat calls out constantly to its team mates. There are actually 30 distinct calls in meerkat “vocabulary,” and their survival hinges on a single rule: keep talking.
  3. Stick together. When escape is no longer an option, meerkats stand their ground and band together to fight off rival gangs and predators as large as jackals. A meerkat mob will sometimes create a cover by stirring up dust, or they may all stand together in a group to look larger than they are.
  4. Raise and develop. Meerkats understand the importance of growing and training their replacements. At least one adult meerkat will always stay around the den to look after the young of the clan. And the adults in the group make it a point to give young meerkats on-the-job training as apprentice hunters.

Clearly, the strength of the tiny meerkat lies in the unique solidarity of the clan.  Are there lessons here for workplace teams and their leaders? Could we build greater power in our teams by focusing on these four attributes? What might get in the way? Please share your perspectives by using the Comments link below.

3 thoughts on “Four lessons about teamwork from the meerkat

  1. Merge – you missed in your blog one important survival factor the meerkats employ… the meerkat mob is a matriarchy. The female leader runs the family with wisdom, strength, and the will to run off any predators who threaten her family. Unfortunately, she will also run off any other female whom she feels is a threat to her leadership… 🙂

  2. Ha! You’re right Margot, I knew about the meerkat mob being a matriarchy but didn’t consider it from the perspective you just raised. Are there parallels we can draw to workplace leadership? I often deliver a keynote titled “High Heels That Click: Why Female Leadership Has Its Advantages” so I’m a believer in girl power. That’s on the positive side. But … I’m not so sure that driving off someone who is a threat to your leadership is always a good thing …

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