Nature-based stories #2 - Bryozoans

Bryozoans – Known as lace or moss animals (Membranipora Rustica) form colonies of many individuals and are often found upon the towering kelp forests of Sea bamboo (Ecklonia Maxima) in South Africa.

Each animal is a mere 1mm in size and is therefore, a unique microscopic creature in itself. The delicate nature of these animals is palpable. However, together as a whole within the making of their skeletal encasing, they are able to weather strong forces of the ocean, and are able to flow with the movement of the kelp forests upon which they form their homes.

Bryozoans feed on phytoplankton with their protruding tentacles which they use to filter feed with. If they had to rely on themselves as a single animal, they would not be able to survive. To have a stable anchor to feed in the ever-fluctuating ocean waters, they build their skeletal colonies upon the kelpy canopies of the underwater forests. To build a connection with one another, these tiny animals form a type of exoskeleton, and the colony growth is achieved by budding new individuals (zooids). The zooids live inside the skeleton and every individual undergoes calcification of the body wall that establishes its definite size. If there is more food, the tentacles grow in number, if there is less food the number of tentacles decrease.

The following analogies came to mind whilst reflecting about this amazing species in terms of collaboration in teams and leadership in today’s business world: Bryozoans function as a strong interconnected team. The common goal is to survive, feed and co-create a strong collective ‘home’ by attaching to one another in the interconnected skeleton they have produced as individuals. Each individual is unique, as much as every human being is unique.

With the growing rate of technology and the digital era, as well as the current pandemic we face, many people collaborate in virtual teams whilst living in different countries and time zones. However, constantly connected via the internet; their mutual projects and shared ideas form the interconnective ‘glue’ in their jobs that nourish them, while each person lives in his or her own individual compartment or home.

The analogy of the bryozoan may assist people who feel lonely or disconnected whilst working remotely to remember that they are not alone, but in fact always connected. Often feeling this sense of connection can prove challenging, but with subtle reminders from nature, we may remember that we are all connected while simultaneously being autonomous beings.

‘New work’ in remote teams in home office requires effective, collaborative leaders who can direct their teams, and simultaneously give everyone the autonomy they need in order to tap into their individual creativity. “Yet many companies spend inordinate amounts of time, money, and energy attracting talented employees only to subject them to homogenising processes that kill creativity.” (Herminia Ibarra: Are you a collaborative leader”)

However, remote teams can attain agility by forming and disbanding opportunities that come and go – just like the tentacles of bryozoans that increase in number when there are more nutrients to filter, and decrease in number when food is scarce.

Similarly, they are agile in reacting to the ‘market’. Therefore, it is important to note, that in order for collaboration to be effective, it has to be highly fluid and not confined to company silos.

In the old word of silos and solo players a command-and-control strategy was common. But things have changed for the better; the world has become much more interconnected, and leaders need to tap into the power of those connections in order to be successful in the future.

Photographic credit: Upon one of her dives, our team member Chryssea Johnson (@chrysanthemum__selkie) was able to capture a photograph or these animals. These bryozoans are incredibly beautiful and intriguing to look at, though not easy to photograph. The weather was stormy that day, bringing a fair amount of swell and rain which made it difficult to grasp the pieces of kelp to get a steady shot.

References

Branch, G., n.d. Two oceans.

Herminia Ibarra. 2021. Are You a Collaborative Leader?. [online] Available at: <https://herminiaibarra.com/are-you-a-collaborative-leader/

MDC Discover Nature. 2021. Bryozoans (Moss Animals). [online] Available at: <https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/bryozoans-moss-animals

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