Career Advice From A To Z: “M” For “6 Management Tips From Ants For Humans”


Are you really leading your team, or do you tell your people what to do and how?

Have you ever asked yourself what’s the managing secret behind an anthill? It’s a challenge to lead a unit of that size, am I right?

In the context of an anthill, most people think of swarm intelligence. Some think of stupid animals doing simple things. Forget about that. It’s not about intelligence, it’s about attitude to work and communication.

Let’s have a look at the 7 reasons that make the success of an anthill. And what are the 6 tips  from our little friends the ants for humans:

  1. They do what they are born to do – following their talents
  2. They don’t wait for orders
  3. They look for work to be done
  4. Those who discover work just do it
  5. Those having no actual work help others
  6. They communicate on the same level, not top-down, not bottom-up
  7. Blockers are removed immediately


Forming such a team is a question of hiring and – yes – firing.

  1. Hire people who want to do this work. People who have chosen this Job for monetary reasons only will act egoistic and work as less as possible. The intelligent ones will only work hard while you notice it. Do not only look at papers. Track records cover the past. They do not guarantee what a candidate will do for you. Give passionate people a chance. Use the probation period to check if you are right. Look at the results, and do not hesitate to make a decision
  2. Set targets, give a direction, but do not lay rails. Don’t act as a control freak. Good employees hate that. They do what is necessary to reach the targets. Provide any help – if asked for. Reward reached targets
  3. Good Employees running out of work look for new work to do. Provide more interesting work. Good employees who like their work hate boredom
  4. If an employee detects work which he can do and needs to be done, he should do it. Furthermore, employees who have time at the moment and can help colleagues should do that across units/departments. Reward that. Remove bureaucratic obstacles which prevent it
  5. Let communication structures grow. Provide additional tools (e.g. remote conferencing systems, bulletin boards etc.) where necessary. Only enforce that you are always informed what happened and who did what. Offer help, but make low level decisions only if asked for or to prevent severe damage
  6. Find blockers and lazy elements and remove them fast. They demotivate the others


Did you think something like “This will never work!” or “Impossible!” at this moment? You are wrong. It already did. Not all points are covered, but here are two real-world-examples:

  • Nixdorf, Germany (1958 up to 1986): This was chaos and improvisation  at its best. High motivation, totally focused on customers. If a job  could not be done by the rules, it was done in a different way, but it was done. In the central computer production plant in Paderborn, the corridors were used as stock. The forklift drivers knew where to find which parts. The whole thing was busy as an anthill. Passion was usual in the software departments, so was overtime. Providing help to overloaded colleagues across any organizational borders was usual and expected. 1986 the “Number 2” (a controller) took over and reorganized (ok, organized…) the company. Three years later it was history.
  • Trigema: “Trigema Inh. W. Grupp e.K. with headquarters in Burladingen, Germany, was established in 1919 and is the largest German manufacturer of sportswear and casual fashion” (quote from the Website). This medium-sized company (1,200 employees) is known – and perhaps the best example for – product quality combined with a local production, without any outsourcing or subcontractors, for decades of ongoing success. The owner (3rd generation) demands flexible employees who can solve problems. “If the carpenter has time, and the mechanic is overloaded, of course the carpenter helps the mechanic.” (Owner Wolfgang Grupp in one of his many Interviews in TV). Needless to mention that the motivation of the employees is outstanding among German companies. Click here for more information on Trigema



Once the company runs without frequent interventions, you made a good job. Remember, an anthill has no managers at all…

Cornel Bruecher
Cornel Bruecher, born 1965, experienced (and survived) many technical and management paradigms. Working as a Principal Consultant, he delivers "by the brain"-solutions. (If you want a "by the book"-solution, you will find it at Amazon...;-) )

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