Mentor Like a Meerkat

Taking Workplace Cues from Nature ~

Meerkats are those cute little critters that scurry about in an almost attention-deficit-hyper-active manner striking an upright posture when on the lookout for food or danger. What you may not know, however, is that they are an extremely social type of mongoose living in southern Africa and in possession of a highly acute sense of smell, vision and hearing. Besides, their babies are called “pups,” so what’s not to like?

It’s not just mom or dad that teaches, but everyone in the burrow household.

Here’s another thing that makes me fond about the meerkat – they live in groups of two or three families called “mobs” which is reminiscent of holiday dinners at my house when the family horde descends.  Meerkats also live together in burrows, spending a lot of their time instructing the young, grooming and playing in a never-ending quest to bond as a large family unit. Let me spell out this point a little plainer – whether male or female, all meerkats pitch in to help educate the younger generation in hunting and survival techniques. It’s not just mom or dad that teaches, but everyone in the burrow household.

On the note of the household, these furry little mobs make use of several different burrows moving from one to another, completely comfortable in their navigation of the extensive tunnel-and-room system that remains remarkably cool even under the sweltering African sun.

There’s something more to be gleaned here than oohing and ahhing over meerkat pups. Nature is teaching us how to work with it instead of against it.

Lesson One:  Mentor each new team member.

Meerkats teach their offspring. Don’t let the “pups” (newly appointed contributors) venture on their own without first spending a decent amount of time guiding and advising them.

Lesson Two:  Instruction is not the sole responsibility of the onboarding manager, but that of the entire organization.

Mommy and daddy meerkats rely on others for the best in education. Why not take a cue from them and call on other departments to help expand the “bandwidth” of tribal knowledge among your newest team mates?

Lesson Three: Do more than simply post a diagram of your organizational structure.

Meerkat mobs are well acquainted with the entire underground burrow system. No matter where they are, they can pop in and out of a dirt hole easily navigating their way through the entire tunneling structure. Fully acquaint your team members with the various functions inside your company (even the politics of working with certain people).  They should know what other departments do and where to go (and who to see) when a given need arises.

Lesson Four:  If you’ve got a team that acts like a mob, call it like you see it. Meerkats do.

For more information on this blog, contact us at and don’t forget to check out our friends and colleagues at the San Diego Zoo Global BioInspiration and Tech to Reconnect Centre – they’re the experts when it comes to learning from nature and in working to conserve our planet’s endangered species.