There has always been pressure in the workplace to perform — but the quality and measure of that pressure seems to have increased significantly over the last few years. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How do we stay on the cutting edge? How do we encourage creativity and innovation?
While organizations have explored strategies over the years to make positive cultural changes to enhance creativity, it remains that they will vary considerably in their ability to do so. Most organizations do have the potential to increase their level of creativity. But, this may require a redefinition of organizational structure. Where creativity and innovation are concerned, organizational form may need to follow the desired function. Without needed revisions in structure and supporting processes – positive changes may not be realized.
Organizations are beginning to realize this connection between structure and creativity. One exciting example of this evolution, is uniquely described in Valve’s Employee Handbook. Valve, a video-game developer located in upstate Washington, has a flat organizational chart that allows talent to flow freely within the organization. One of the basic tenets at Valve, is that ideas have tremendous value and deserve to be explored by those who have real interest. As such, employees at Valve are not limited by a reporting structure – they are free to gravitate to the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are never assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time.
Work swarming & talent utilization
Work swarming, a process similar to the talent utilization process operating at Valve, is a type of spontaneous teaming borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy to a particular task. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in various workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Swarming allows needed resources to focus upon a task of real importance or potential value.
Work swarming has the potential to encourage creativity and innovation. However, there is hesitancy to give up the security of prescribed levels and roles within a traditional organizational hierarchy. Common sense tells us that Valve’s way of doing things won’t work for all organizations. But, we could adapt the process so that it could be utilized. Yes, organizations may need some aspects of a hierarchy – but many would reap benefits from the implementation of swarming.
A hybrid structure
Job descriptions and reporting relationships prescribe specific activities and relationships. But to encourage creativity and innovation, it may be advantageous for employees to have the opportunity to function outside the realm of their “day-to-day” routine. Not unlike the 70-20-10 concept pioneered at Google, employees would feel free to explore new projects, ideas and trends. As such, employees would be allowed to “unhitch” from the organizational hierarchy and work flexibly for a percentage of their time. In this way, employees could contribute to worthy projects in which they have interest; new ideas are explored, and employee engagement might be enhanced.
This process would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas and projects — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — in that way employees can make decisions concerning where to spend their time. If there is enough interest in a new project, a team is organized and employees can plug into the action and contribute. Not enough interest? The project dies before an inordinate amount of resources are devoted.
There are certainly logistics that would need to be addressed to modify an organizational form or structure. However, in the case of creativity and innovation – changes to enhance these processes may prove to be a worthy endeavor.
Note: This post was originally published at Talent Zoo