Monday, February 8, 2010

Organizational Cooperation Is For The Birds

Organizations can learn a lot from ornithological studies. One such study is by Sheng-Feng Shen, a former grad student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Sheng-Feng Shen's research focused on the cooperative practices of the Taiwan Yuhina songbird. What does a five inch songbird have to do with human organizations? You may be surprised. Read on.

The
Taiwan Yuhina utilize a unique process where
multiple, non-related females lay eggs jointly in the same nest and then in a miraculous demonstration of democratic cooperation, group members share the responsibility of rearing the chicks development. This species is so cooperative that even non-breeding birds help incubate the eggs. Transform all this avian cooperation to the often times, non-cooperative world of human organizations and we may find solutions to our most vexing organizational challenges. By sharing in the feeding and raising of its own and others offspring, the species helps to guarantee its survival.

When corporate functions operate as a single entity separate from the organization, their focus is not on the sustained and vibrant life of the 'species' but of that on the individual and his or her own needs. No species or organization can achieve success if the organization is not focused on acting together for a common purpose or benefit. As demonstrated by the
Taiwan Yuhina songbirds non-breeding helpers, when you help your colleagues survive you help the species not only survive but also prosper. Imagine this type of cooperation in the workplace. Individuals helping their colleagues grow and develop, which in turn grows the functional group, which in turn grows and develops the entire organization. Shen's work also shows how the behavior of the Taiwan Yuhina can be aligned and incorporated into our highly developed human species: by reducing conflict and competition. With this all-for-one, one-for-all attitude, each family within the species raises its success rate by reducing conflict that usually occurs when individuals and groups operate from a place of sparseness instead of abundance. (Fighting for food in recently earthquake ravaged Haiti can be viewed as an extreme example.) When humans are not treated fairly, when they feel slighted and rewards are not distributed equally, they first clamor, chirp and complain, then get angry and resentful. The important need to be valued and validated is attempted through gossip and in tandem with the desperate need to be understood and appreciated, efficiency and productivity are greatly reduced followed by flights of departure.

By coordinating the adults feeding arrivals to the nest, the Taiwan Yuhina's food distribution is provided evenly to the nestlings reducing the competition to be fed. Well fed, satiated chicks are happy chicks and happy chicks are productive chicks. Nature never stops being a powerful teacher of how to live and work in harmony and how to best guarantee our survival. Without the cooperation of each member of the species the 'species' can not survive.