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Internal comms: a meerkat masterclass

They’re cute, they’re cool, they spell kat with a k and they can sell insurance better than the smoothest salesman. But what can they teach us about internal komms? 44’s Sarah Woods compares the meerkat…

Animal behaviour can be fascinating. If YouTube viewing figures are anything to go by then we find it really, REALLY interesting. Take Cat vs Cucumber videos, for example: it turns out that a cat will completely freak out when it comes face-to-face with a cucumber. The extreme reactions to the innocuous but unexpected item have given rise to millions of views. Fascinating? Yes. Cruel? Probably. A waste of time? Absolutely. Thank you Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web.

But when we’re not psychologically damaging our pets, we can learn a thing or two from animals just by watching what they do naturally.

I present to you the meerkat. On paper they shouldn’t survive: they are small, have little to defend themselves with and are surrounded by predators. But despite this, they’re surprisingly successful. Why? Because they work together as a team – like the A-Team, but with meerkats instead of mercenaries.

So here’s a meerkat masterclass in internal comms:

Teamwork – they’ve got each other’s furry backs

Meerkats learn to trust and rely on each other for survival early on, without an awkward team building exercise in sight. They take turns in different roles, whether it’s training the pups, or sentry duty – and they know the importance of their roles to the survival of the group. After studying the animals’ behaviour, researchers from the University of Cambridge[1] found that, rather than simply looking out for themselves, their behaviour is altruistic and for the good of the group.

Creating a collaborative culture rather than one where people are out for themselves is vital. An employee that doesn’t understand his or her place and importance in the business is unlikely to be invested in its success. To create a more altruistic environment it’s crucial that everyone is aware of the role they play and how they fit into the organisation.

Communication – the good, the bad and the ugly

Meerkats know the importance of keeping each other informed. Researchers have found that they have different calls for different types of danger. They can differentiate between an attack from the air or a ground-based assault. But what really sets meerkats apart is that, according to the San Diego Zoo, when the sentry is on duty, “a low, constant peeping, known as the watchman’s song, is made when all is well”[2]. By letting each other know when things are fine, the mob will be more relaxed and reminded that someone is looking out for them.

In your organisation, internal comms is your sentry. And if meerkats know that one call doesn’t cover all, so should we. Keeping in touch with your employees and keeping them informed should be varied and ongoing. Whether it’s good news or bad news, communication is the key to building trust and letting everyone know where you are.

Training and development – they totally dig it

Meerkats are one of the few animals that actively teach their young. While other newborn animals must learn by observing the adults, according to National Geographic[3], meerkats run a training school for their pups. Without teaching their young how to remove the stingers from scorpions or toxins from millipedes, they wouldn’t last long.

In any organisation it should be part of the culture that the more experienced actively teach and train the newbies, rather than expecting them to pick it up from observing. Organisations are bound to benefit when knowledge and experience are shared. And while your employees are unlikely to be dealing with live scorpions, without training and development there’s still a chance they could get stung.

The lion may think he’s the king, but when it comes to communication the meerkat takes the crown. However, even good analogies can only take us so far. Meerkats also do a lot of things that just aren’t cool. Eating your colleagues’ children (even when you really want that promotion) is never okay. But you get the idea – when you’ve mastered your comms, even the smallest and most unlikely of groups can make it in a hard, hot desert.

And while meerkats may be experts in the desert, we’re experts in our field. So if you’re keen to improve your own internal comms then give us a call. Simples!


[1] http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/research-suggests-meerkat-predator-scanning-behaviour-is-altruistic

[2] http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/meerkat

[3] http://nationalgeographic.org/media/meerkat-survival-tactics/

 

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