Ergonomics done right.®
March 7th, 2008

What do ants know about ergonomics?

In a word – ‘lots’. Ants are the most numerous multi-cell organisms on the earth so they are probably a good success model. The growth and propagation of their colonies are defined in three distinct stages.

1. The first is the "Founding Stage" where the young ant queen leaves her mother and siblings behind in the colony (usually after a rain or high humidity) and then flies until she has met and been attended to by a few males. The flight can range from fifty yards to several miles. She then finds a suitable place in moist soil or in a rotting tree to build her own nest. She feeds and cares for her first offspring until they are adults.

The queen must give birth to a sufficient number of workers who must grow quickly to find food to give the queen the nourishment to allow her to continue giving birth and populating the rest of the young colony.

2. If successful, the growing colony then enters the second stage (here’s the irony) which is known as the "Ergonomic Stage". The queen dedicates herself to egg-laying and the workers increase in number and learn specialties such as hunting for food, building the residence nest, defending the colony and raiding the neighbors. The ergonomic phase is about getting the population to a viable critical mass of workers with a blend of skills as quickly as possible. If the colony can get through this stage successfully its mortality drops markedly. The propagation and specialization of the workers in the ergonomic stage is the most critical factor in the lifespan of the colony.

3. Finally, when the colony reaches an appropriate size, it enters the "Reproductive Stage" and new queens and males are produced. At the right moment they leave the nest to produce new colonies, beginning the cycle all over again. Typically after about 5 years the colony size starts to stabilize. Once achieving stability they have a high likelihood of staying that size and surviving for many years.

So the Ergonomic Phase is critical. And likewise for human workers – it is important to know the optimum size and blend of skills and roles to enable the team to achieve their purpose. If it operates below this level then it is highly unlikely to achieve peak performance.