Bees, Butterflies, and Plants in Organizations

Time for that age old talk about the birds and the bees.  Oh wait!  I’ll leave that awkward moment for you and a parent, in the mean time I’m going to tell you about the bees, butterflies, and plants, in the context of organizations.  This piece will help you recognize which one you are at your workplace, and what benefit each of those brings to the situation (no, not cool wings or stingers).

I first heard about this model from a friend of mine when he returned from a conference where participants were directed to act as either bees or butterflies.  I was fascinated, but felt the framework fell a little short of covering most of the important options, so I’ve expanded it to include plants.  Without further ado, a description of each:

Bees

Bees are the pollinators of an organizations!  They are the ones that are constantly collecting information and resources from one place and bringing it to another.  You will find them spreading best practices between departments, passing on news of the organization, or even exchanging juicy stories at the water cooler.  This role is important because the bees will use both formal and informal communication channels to keep an organization internally connected and connected to the outside world.  Organizations can benefit from recognizing those with this skill and utilizing it for the company’s benefit, rather than hamper it.

Butterflies

Those who take on the butterfly role are collectors of information, but are not necessarily in the habit of spreading it throughout the organization.  They are often great listeners and note takers during meetings and although it may not seem like they are participating they are actually filling an important role.  Organizations can benefit greatly from those who collect and retain knowledge and resources.  If their knowledge is correctly recorded, it can lead to institutional knowledge that endures through turnover and change.  Unlike their bee counterparts who are also collectors, the butterflies may do a more thorough job of gathering knowledge because they are less concerned with moving on to share it.  Companies should embrace those who fill this role and create proper outlets for tapping into the butterfly’s wealth of knowledge.

Plants

Plants are the people from whom the other two types collect information, gossip, and best practices.  They may be content experts with a unique set of skills or knowledge about a field.  They may also be people who have been at an organization a long time and may have transitioned from a butterfly role to a plant role, perhaps because they felt they no longer needed to collect.  Plants play an extremely important role in organizational dynamics and organizations should allow them to take root, so to speak.  As with the butterflies, plants should be allowed to hold on to information, but engaged in ways that respect their more reserved communication style.  

As with almost every model for classifying people into types, everyone in this framework is important.  We need those who know the valuable methods and tips just as much as we need those who spread the nectar of knowledge throughout a company.  In closing, consider the questions below and how you see this framework at work at your job:

What role do you think you fill at work?

Does your organization support your role?

Does your organization support all three of the roles?

Did I miss any roles?  What would you add?

Levi Baer

Chicago, IL