Recognizing Zebras and Wildebeests

On the plains of the Serengeti zebras often stick close by wildebeests. The two animals seem like an odd pairing with their contrasting colors and non-matching body shapes, but they are frequently seen traveling together in one massive herd. There’s a good reason for this conspicuous friendship. They have a symbiotic relationship in that they prefer to graze on two different styles of grass. Their dietary habits are complementary so it makes sense they would both sit at the same table.

But there exists another facet of curious symbiosis between these African species. When it comes to predators, zebras and wildebeests also share a common interest. They are hunted by the same big cats. Zebras have sharper eyesight and more acute hearing. They tend to spot a lurking lion faster than their Bovidae brethren. Because of this heightened sense of perception, the wildebeest is able to reap the benefits of the zebra’s early warning system.

The problem for the wildebeest is that, not only are they slower to recognize the threat without the zebra’s help, but they are also slower to escape the threat once it is perceived. Put simply, the wildebeest is just all-around slower than the zebra. Whatever they gain from the zebra’s foresight, they immediately lose when that same zebra outruns them during the escape.

Although the relationship appears to be symbiotic, the zebra comes out on top here. One reason the zebra hangs out with the wildebeest is so it can “throw the wildebeest under the bus” when push comes to shove.

How does this translate to your team? Do you have zebras who make a show of helping junior members, but in reality are only keeping them close so they can be sacrificed when the going gets tough? When the business faces setbacks watch how the team responds. Keep an eye out for those who seem hyper alert to danger but who always let others take the blame. It takes discernment to spot. Don’t let the wildebeests of your office get devoured when their only sin was trusting a seemingly well-meaning colleague.