With the BBC One’s Blue Planet II now in full swing, the world is once again marvelling at the extraordinary creatures with which we share our corner of the universe. The blockbuster nature documentary has attracted 80 million viewers in China alone, causing a temporary slowing of the nation’s internet as people rushed to download it. Now that is an achievement to jazz up your cv!

Meanwhile, Sir David Attenborough apart, and despite some signs of a global economic recovery, many of the earth’s prominent human inhabitants continue to underwhelm. Take the UK and US Governments and their equally flawed opposition. Please take them! Even Germany, the spiritual home of effective coalition, has hit political deadlock.

I can’t be alone in thinking that most of the world’s major challenges (climate change and the destruction of natural resources, poverty, energy supply, religious conflict, gender equality, lack of education, water and food security) are long-term while those tasked with addressing them are driven by partisan, short-term agendas.

Our political representatives seem unprepared for solving the meaty global problems that lie ahead, like football managers with eyes only on the next match.

What is less open to debate is that 2017 has been dogged by uncertainty and that organisations everywhere are anticipating an unpredictable future by restructuring into leaner versions of themselves, looking for efficiencies and greater collaboration across internal functions and with external service providers.

True collaboration, however, is not easy to deliver. As Ron Ashkenas observed in a piece for the digital Harvard Business Review in April 2015, it “takes much more than people being willing to get together, share information and cooperate.” In short, it is easy to confuse cooperation, coordination and teamwork with the intended outcome of collaboration.

Of course, all the above represent positive behaviours but collaboration contains an exclusive requirement. To succeed, collaborators must have the ability and flexibility to align their plans and resources, potentially to subjugate them to whatever is defined as the greater good. What is the overall vision, what is the shared goal which sits above individual and functional objectives and performance measures? To quote Ashkenas again, there needs to be “an explicit framework that will serve as a collaboration contract” to which all relevant parties commit.

Often such high-level alignment is difficult to achieve. Simply getting the players into the same room can be a stretch. In my experience, though, the effort to facilitate face-to-face time, as early as possible in the process, provides the forum for identifying the shared outcome, for agreeing the terms of a collaboration which changes the game, for moving beyond mere cooperation mode.

All of which leads me to ants. I have recently discovered the work of 88-year-old Emeritus Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson, generally regarded as ‘the father of biodiversity’ but, for these purposes, top of the tree in (new word alert) myrmecology, the branch of entomology which relates to the study of ants. He is a much-quoted man, E.O., a favourite of mine being: “The real problem for humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology.” Discuss!

And, before I get to the point, ants are amazing. They have inhabited our planet for over 90 million years (compared with Homo Sapiens at 200,000) meaning that they survived the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, they’re everywhere (apart, basically, from the Arctic and Antarctica), they can carry over 10 times their body weight and can stand upside down on glass in a hurricane. Importantly, too, in the opinion of Professor Wilson: “Ants have the most complicated social organisation on earth, next to humans.”

Ants, like humans, can also be bad. Some species practise slavery, some child labour and some are spectacularly aggressive but, in general, as collaborators, they are exemplary. Through primarily chemical communication combined with disproportionate brainpower, ants have developed a system by which their colonies act as one superorganism. Many of the occupants perform highly specialised tasks that bring little individual benefit, the focus being on the survival of the colony, the ultimate shared goal.

As humans, we can’t close our eyes to the consequences of our more irresponsible activities. If we wish to avoid our own mass extinction event, or simply improve our ways of working, we need to collaborate.  ‘One big organism’ sounds like a worthwhile ambition to me.

I’ll leave the final words to Edward Osborne Wilson: “Competing is intense among humans and, within a group, selfish individuals always win. But in contests between groups, groups of altruists always beat groups of selfish individuals.”