Swarm Intelligence & Team Adaption

Nature contains striking examples of collective behaviour as seen in social insects, fish and bird colonies. This collective behaviour is known as Swarm Intelligence (SI).

S. Cristancho (2020)

Journal Club Article

Cristancho, S. M. (2021). On collective self‐healing and traces: How can swarm intelligence help us think differently about team adaptation?Medical Education55(4), 441-447.


The changing work environment, with competing demands of time, resources and interprofessional dynamics challenge traditional ways of thinking.

What is Team Adaption?

Recognising the sum of the whole is more effective than the individual. This approach requires personal adaption and individual agendas to a collective behaviour. Team adaptation is the ability of a group of individuals to successfully navigate challenges.


From a SI perspective, a solution to a problem emerges as a result of the collective action of the members of the swarm, not the individual action.

This collective or swarm action is achieved via four principles:

  1. Direct and indirect communication,
  2. Awareness,
  3. Self-determination
  4. Collective self-healing

Collective self-healing
is the ability of the swarm to cope with failure and adapt to changes by permitting
swarm members to be interchangeable.

S. Cristancho (2020)

Clinical Challenges & High Stakes

New admission or emergency buzzer goes off and the multidisciplnary team head into action, however it is not always possible to have a ‘set’ team, it óften depends on the location and situation of the healthcare setting and this is an additional challenge to recognise over set and structured teams. The commonly used adage of Formula 1 pit stop teams as practice makes perfect makes sense if its the same team, same task and very little varience. In healthcare the team is maybe different throughout a shift, never mind day to day, and you are definetly not working on the same patient every time.

Additional Resources

Garnier, S., Gautrais, J., & Theraulaz, G. (2007). The biological principles of swarm intelligenceSwarm Intelligence1, 3-31.

Liu, Y., & Passino, K. M. (2000). Swarm intelligence: Literature overviewDepartment of electrical engineering, the Ohio State University.

Maynard, M. T., Kennedy, D. M., & Sommer, S. A. (2015). Team adaptation: A fifteen-year synthesis (1998–2013) and framework for how this literature needs to “adapt” going forwardEuropean Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology24(5), 652-677.