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Definition

bioteam

A bioteam is an organizational structure in which peers share power and responsibility and each member of the team is a both a leader and a follower. The structure is modeled after a fluid leadership structure found in nature. 

Each member of a bioteam has the same knowledge, training and authority. The team uses review meetings to decide upon goals and ways to evaluate how the goals are being met. By establishing priorities and procedures right at the beginning, the team eliminates the likelihood of failure because of the actions of one team member

Software developer Ken Thompson coined the term bioteam after observing how bees and birds communicate and collaborate to get work done. Canada geese, for instance, take turns being at the front of their “V” flying formation. (Being in front requires the most energy.) An observer will see the V constantly changing shape as the birds take turns leading and followers adjust position to reduce drag and fly long distances efficiently. Some scientists think the leadership rotation also encourages the birds to communicate more effectively.  The geese’s honking is thought to be a kind of broadcast where the birds are issuing instructions about speed, warning about danger or sending messages of encouragement.

Thompson proposes that although birds in a flock of geese or ants in a colony function in close proximity to each other, a human bioteam can be just as effective when team members are working remotely. A traditional team whose members are in different countries, for instance, might waste time waiting for orders from superiors who live in different time zones. In the bioteam self-managing model, there's no waiting.  By allowing individual team member to make decisions and take action without requiring permission, the entire team improves its reaction time and productivity.

A bioteam works best when each team member broadcasts information and updates to the entire team frequently. This prevents confusion and redundancy, while still allowing team members to react quickly to any given situation they encounter. Transparent communication increases the probability that any decision a team member makes will be in the team’s best interests.To facilitate communication and let team members know when actions have been taken, bioteams can use collaborative and social software tools such as Sharepoint, wikis, SwarmTeam or Twitter. According to Ken Thompson, the most efficient bioteams use one-way broadcasts and save two-way communications (which take more time) for when they’re really needed.

 

See also: ROWE, Scrum

 

Learn more:

In The secret DNA of high-performing virtual teams, Ken Thompson explains why bioteams treat every team member as a leader.

Thompson provides an overview of bioteaming as it applies to the modern workplace in Virtual Teams - a new paradigm from nature.

This case study shows how the Intermediate Care Team at DaisyHill Hospital used bioteam principles to communication and collaborate more effectively.

This was last updated in April 2009

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