Sep 25, 2012

Company “Hive” Culture: Killing Personality for the Colony

Bees have long been a symbol of productivity and togetherness. When the early pioneers settled Utah, they put the beehive on their state flag to represent the hard work and dedication it took to build that part of the West.

Today, in business, the beehive often serves as a metaphor for efficiency and teamwork.

But, I wonder if some companies have taken the analogy too far.

While it is lovely that bees are concentrated on honey production, bees are also expected to sacrifice their individual lives to protect the colony. They also kill each other if infiltration of the hive is suspected. Some companies have a similar environment.

Of course, nobody expects employees to sacrifice their lives, but some businesses forget that their employees are real people. To some, the workforce is just a disposable supply of mindless drones. And, for whatever reason, there are some folks that think they are the Queen, believing they are the only piece of the organization that matters, that the “hive” revolves around them.

In my experience, this type of mindset is partly the effect of how companies view their employees from the date of hire. It starts with the idea that a new hire is a “purchase” rather than a new part of the team. Instead of the “we’re-in-this-together” mentality, it’s the “I-pay-you-to-work-here-so-do-whatever-I-say” mentality.

RELATED: Are You a Perfectionist or a Leanist?

If Employees Won’t Die for the Colony, then Their Personalities Must

Company “Hive” Culture: Killing Personality for the Colony

I have a friend that works in one of the most toxic team environments. Although the company itself is successful – worth millions of dollars in fact – my friend explains that he can’t be himself. He feels this vibe from managers, execs, and even coworkers that everyone must sacrifice their personalities the moment they step in the door. He more or less lives with this rule or gets fired: “If you smile, it better be about the company; if not, you better be smiling off the clock. We pay for your work, not your personality.”

While aligning the team to focus on work is important, 100% zombie-like alignment can hardly be expected. Chances are, the personalities of team members will be present, so instead of treating them as if they’ve infiltrated the system, why not use that to harbor a creative, friendly culture? When it comes down to it, even with less focus, a team in a synergetic environment can be much more successful than a team whose members mask themselves as corporate-branded robots.

RELATED: Innovative Ideas Start with Innovative People: Think Different, Think Crazy, Think Simple.

We’re In this Together

The workplaces in which I’ve felt most comfortable have always been the ones where I don’t feel “owned” by the company, where my importance to the business isn’t based only on my maximum pay-to-output ratio. To me, when all team members can contribute to an overall picture, depend on each other to accomplish goals, and learn together to overcome road blocks, that’s when a company is more than just a buzzing hive of workers.

When you think about it, most people spend more time with their coworkers than with their own family and friends – so, I’d consider it pretty important to have positive culture. People shouldn’t have to survive in a place that is so strict, so branded, and so micromanaged that the employees, like bees, start killing each other off when a bit of personality steps in.


Company “Hive” Culture: Killing Personality for the ColonySmall business advocate and proponent of the American Dream, Tyson Steele writes about the creativity and muscle it takes for the entrepreneur to build a successful business. From start-up innovation and marketing to company management and financing, Tyson translates the technical humdrum of biz-speak and bank-speak into something anyone can read.

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  1. This article was refreshing! I miss the days (not so long ago -90’s) when organizations attempted to foster recognition, empowerment, and an overall bottom up management model! Remember the 7 Habits of Highly Effective people?? If managers and top organizational leaders attempted to integrate these pricipals, I’m confident it would attract loyal, top talent!
    That being said how can I find out about a company culture prior to even applying? Web sights all have a canned “talk track” but what’s really going on behind the scene? Any advice how to find a company that is focused on it’s most valuable resource, it’s people!

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