bioteams and the gift circle network

Organizational structure models – sounds maybe a little like a bland topic at first eh? I used to think so.. but contained within these structures are potential ways to guide life to harmonize, to dance, to facilitate the emergence of collective human potential.

Choose the wrong structure and the innate potential of humanity may be suppressed. Choose the right structure and something gets unleashed.

Choose the right structure for the gift circle network and we can really unleash its potential.

Ants work together to build intricate networks of tunnels underground, to collect food to feed the whole colony, and to fight off predatorial threats. They exhibit amazing coordination. What organizational structure do they use? Turns out they do not rely on a command and control hierarchy. This kind of structure is not flexible to allow for the many decisions about where food is and how to collect it to be made quickly enough. And no individual ant has enough intelligence to understand how to manage all the other ants. They use a decentralized non-hierarchical model that builds collective intelligence.

One of the tools they use for coordination is a one-way communication tool – the pheromone. Ants leave a scent trail that others use to decide where to go and what to do. These trails guide others – not in a top-down control manner, but rather in a bottom-up manner where the directions everyone goes emerges out of the collective interaction of pheromones, ants, and food.


Ken Thompson has studied how ants organize and applied ant organizational models to human organizations. His work is called Bioteams. Here are some of the principles.

(more info at,
bioteams manifesto )

1.Communicate information — not orders.
2. Mobilize everyone to look for and manage team threats and
opportunities (collective responsibility).
3. Achieve accountability through transparency not permission.
4. Provide 24×7 instant in situ message hotlines for all team members
(make sure the team is continually and immediately connected).
5. Treat external partners as fully trusted team members.
6. Nurture the team’s internal and external networks and connections
(the strength of weak ties).
7. Develop consistent autonomous team member behaviors (ensure all
members agree to do a few critical things the same way).
8. Team members must learn effective biological and interpersonal
co-operation strategies (find the natural win-win approaches).
9. Learn through experimentation, mutation and team review (not analysis).
10. Define the team’s goals and roles in terms of ‘network
transformations’ — not expected outputs.
11. Develop team boundaries which are open to energy but closed to
waste (the right team and the right team size can’t be absolutely
known up front).
12. Scale naturally through nature’s universal growth and decay cycles
(the membership and roles of the team will evolve organically over

So how does this apply to the gift circle network.

Well bio-team principle 1 suggests that in the gift circle network the different gift circles would be constantly putting out information about how they are doing, what facilitation methods they are using, what results they are getting. This information allows the other gift circles to constantly learn from each other as they try out new things.

This leads into principle 9 – learn through constantly experimenting and mutating. The gift circles evolve through bottom-up emergence, rather than from a top-down commands from gift circle HQ which having done sophisticated analysis of all variables feels like it knows what is best for all the individual gift circles.

Principle 2 would suggest that all the gift circle are constantly on the lookout for potential opportunities. The gift circle vision is not yet clear, and so there are many directions the gift circle movement can go. There does not have to be a gift circle HQ deciding the direction of the gift circle movement. Each gift circle can be searching out different directions and opportunities for growth.

Principle 4 suggests the gift circle has an around the clock platform where people can constantly be putting up needs, gifts, new gift circle facilitation methods, stories of sharing and ideas.

Principle 6 suggests there are many external networks that gift circles want to nurture relationships with. For instance gift circles can have great synergies with the Transition town network, the Evolver spore network, and the Whats your Tree network. Principle 5 suggests that gift circles be transparent about what is going on inside the gift circle to these other networks.

Principle 10 suggests that its more important than all the stuff and services that happen in the gift circle, is the transformation in the people themselves as they partake in the gift circle process.

Principle 11 suggests that is not a head of the gift circle that decides on team size for different things the gift circle manifests but rather the people in the gift circles who ’emerge’ the best team sizes for projects.

Principle 12 suggests the gift circle network is grown by listening to its internal and external rhythms rather than built according to some pre-set plan.

Bioteams is one example of a bottom-up models of organization. There are many other examples too.

5 thoughts on “bioteams and the gift circle network

  1. Hi There

    Ken Thompson here (Bioteams Author).

    Thanks for a very nice summary of bioteams and its practical application for you. What you are doing sounds very interesting.

    I would be happy to publish an article by you on The Gift Circle Network on which might make a few useful connections for you.

    Also I like t look of your book which I have skimmed

    Keep up the good work


  2. Hi Alpha and ken,

    I was just informed of a new open source collaborative teams platform that incorporates many of the described bioteams principals. Currently, it’s in Beta but check out their intro video below it’s neat:

  3. Hi Alpha and Evan

    Watched the video – the bettermeans project looks really interesting and very synergistic with bioteams principles. I will take a closer look and maybe do a blog

    Best Regards


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