The Evolution of Work: Organizational Structure and a Culture of Creativity

Creativity

There has always been pressure in workplaces to perform. However, the quality and measure of that pressure has evolved significantly. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How can we stay on the cutting edge? How do we help talent, help us?

While organizations have explored strategies to facilitate cultural changes that enhance creativity — in practice, they vary considerably in their ability to do so. Many organizations have the potential to increase creativity (mindset and motivation). But, this often requires an accompanying adjustment or redefinition of organizational structure.

Where creativity and innovation are concerned, an organization’s “form” may need to adjust to follow this desired function. Without needed revisions in structure and supporting processes, positive changes are difficult to realize.

Organizations are beginning to make the connection between structure, creativity and innovation. One example, is uniquely represented in Valve’s Employee Handbook. Valve — a game developer located in upstate Washington, works with a flat organizational chart that allows talent to flow freely toward the work. One  basic tenet, is the belief that ideas have tremendous value — and deserve to be explored by those who have interest in their development. As such, employees are not completely limited by reporting structure and are free to gravitate toward the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are rarely assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time based upon skills and interest.

Work swarming, a process quite similar to talent utilization at Valve, is not unlike the spontaneous mechanisms borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy toward specific, needed tasks. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in other workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Ultimately, elements of swarming allow resources to focus upon a task of real importance or potential value. A dynamic often not realized in traditional, mature organizations.

Work swarming has the potential to encourage both creativity and innovation. However, there is often a general hesitancy to move away from the prescribed roles within traditional hierarchies. As such, contributors remain in their designated lines of work. Common sense does tell us that Valve’s method won’t work perfectly for all organizations. However, we could adapt processes so it might be utilized.

Within traditional organizations, job descriptions and reporting relationships prescribe specific activities and relationships. But to encourage creativity and innovation, it would be advantageous for employees to have the opportunity to function outside the realm of their “day-to-day” routine — a “hybrid” solution. Not unlike the 70-20-10 concept pioneered at Google, employees would feel free to explore new projects, ideas and trends. Employees could 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 enhanced. Talent would flow toward projects which could transform an organization.

The implementation of swarming components would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas and projects — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — and the available talent. In this 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, in this manner. However, in the case of creativity and innovation — changes to enhance these processes may prove a worthy endeavor.

Note:  A form of this post has been previously published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

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