Seems we can learn quite a bit about ourselves and our workplace by looking at chimps in the wild. By knowing how they work, we can defend ourselves from the uprising! From The Australian:

IF you occasionally walk into the office thinking “this place is run by chimpanzees”, you may well be right.

Humans do share traits with chimpanzees and, according to chimp scholar Jane Goodall, there is much the monkey can teach the modern chief executive about his staff.

For example — see if this doesn’t ring a bell — in a typical chimp group, there will be an alpha male who is the most powerful. As the alpha male becomes more powerful, he brings his supporters through the ranks with him.

When an alpha male is displaced, it causes changes in the whole group. A displaced alpha male can quickly slide in the ranking, and almost overnight can become one of the lowest-ranked chimps.

A male that is seeking to become the next alpha male will, as much as possible, keep out of the alpha male’s way and be respectful to his face.

On the other hand, not everybody wants to be the alpha male. Those who do challenge for the top job might get bitten (literally in the case of the chimps) and instead prefer to therefore hang about, doing little.

When the alpha male feels threatened, his hair stands on ends and he screeches.

Dr Goodall, who spent many years living near chimpanzees in Africa, will start a national lecture tour on this theme on October 1. It will visit all states, except Tasmania.

“I have observed chimpanzees for many years, and it’s clear that we share many traits,” Dr Goodall said. “I’m very conscious now of things like body language and people’s eyes, and it does become easier to predict how somebody might behave.

“When an alpha male (in the chimp world, not the chief executive) is defeated, for example, he may disappear, or retire, but then, perhaps not. It depends on their age. If young, they might try again. Sometimes you can trace (an unwillingness to challenge for the top job) to a bad experience early in their career. They might have been very confident and been badly beaten up and they are content to stay down.”

Dr Goodall said the most successful chimp groups had a leader who was not aggressive.

“The best ones are … self-confident, smart and have alliances,” she said. “And as soon as you lose the alpha male, you have absolute chaos.”

Dr Goodall has teamed with Sydney-based Andrew O’Keeffe to offer seminars for chief executives at Taronga Zoo. “It is for executives who are curious about what drives behavior,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

Business leaders who attend the workshops “almost always see somebody they recognize”.

One group saw a takeover bid by a younger male when the alpha male was taken out of the group for dental treatment.

“It was not successful, because the alpha male had invested a lot over the years, managing alliances and sharing food with the offspring,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

“When the alpha came back, somehow he understood there had been an attempt and he bit the beta male. It’s risky, so it’s best to wait until (the boss) is wounded and even then it might not work.”

Michael Murphy, manager of human resources at Flight Centre, where staff are organized into “tribes” with a leader and no more than seven people in any office: said: “It’s natural to have a close-knit group. … That is why we’ve structured our business model on the family, village, tribe concept. Any larger than that and you get problems in a group.”

www.janegoodall.org.au

Next time you want to see how your workplace dynamics look to others, go to the zoo.

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