Is Your Organization Ready for a “Work Swarm”?

Gartner has published a fascinating list of how the world of work may change going forward. The ideas posed within the article were intriguing. But one idea in particular — the concept of a “work swarm” caught my attention.

Borrowed from nature, Gartner describes a work swarm as a “flurry of collective activity” to deal with non routine problems at work. The concept implies agility — and it is simple to apply this idea to how organizations solve problems or meet important challenges.

The ability to “swarm” or quickly assemble a cross-functional or cross-departmental team to problem solve, could be viewed as a key marker concerning an organization’s ability to innovate. Without this ability, organizations can fall short in the quest to respond to internal stressors and the changing demands of the external environment in a timely manner.

Stretching the Elements of Organizational Structure
Removing obstacles to implement swarming can prove to be a challenge for many organizations. One problem in applying the concept, is that we often view the structure of an organization as inflexible. To utilize swarming, the structure of an organization would have to be viewed as more fluid and changeable. Talent would be allowed to cross functional lines more routinely, exposing key issues to a more varied group of experts. This would potentially improve organizational problem solving capabilities.

Work swarming should also allow needed experts outside of the organization to flow in. Platforms such as InnoCentive, have facilitated this process, where certain organizational challenges are posted and can be solved by experts in the external environment. A clever application of crowd sourcing, even the most stubborn of problems can find new chances for resolution.

One other issue in facilitating work swarming, is capturing and communicating the skill sets of those within the organization. Moreover, employees would require up to date information concerning current projects and challenges, so they have the opportunity to contribute. Interestingly enough, innovators such as Jostle are beginning to develop tools to effectively manage this information within organizations. These products are interesting applications, which mine data to document information concerning current roles, team membership and areas of expertise.

Change will open the door to opportunities
Organizational leaders may fear that implementing work swarming techniques would prove too difficult, as the process would initially involve a mindset shift concerning structure. Others may feel that if an organization is large – it is just too cumbersome to keep a tally of the skill sets of those employed there. However, I encourage steps in this direction. Overall, these fears would never be a strong enough excuse to miss key opportunities to excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

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4 thoughts on “Is Your Organization Ready for a “Work Swarm”?

  1. Pingback: Work Swarms – The New Work Style – Renit Consulting and Design Group

  2. Great concept! In addition to ego, the other hindrance is organizational measurement and rewards. The benefits of this concept will not be realized if those aren’t aligned such that people are rewarded, both from a career and compensation perspective.

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  3. The simple act of inviting people throughout an organization to join forces to solve an issue that is critical to company success has potential to be invigorating to the organization. I can visualize people not only giving their all to the the solution, but also returning to their daily tasks with renewed enthusiasm.

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  4. Love this article Marla. The world of work seems to be going in this direction. But ego is a hindrance. People think that they can solve their own problems, and that they will somehow be branded as incompetents for reaching out to different departments. When the opposite is true.

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