The Evolution of Work: Organizational Structure and the Culture of Creative


There has always been pressure in the workplace to perform — but the quality and measure of that pressure has evolved significantly over the last few years. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How will we stay on the cutting edge?

While organizations have explored strategies over the years to facilitate cultural changes to enhance creativity, it remains they will vary considerably in their ability to do so. Most organizations have the inherent potential to increase their level of creativity. But, this may require an adjustment or redefinition of structure. Where creativity and innovation are concerned, organizational form may need to follow the desired function. Without needed revisions in structure and the accompanying supporting processes, positive changes may not be realized.

Organizations are beginning to make the “power” connection between structure and creativity. One exciting example of this, is uniquely represented 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 its structure. One  basic tenet at Valve, is that ideas have tremendous value —  and deserve to be explored by those who have real interest in their development. Employees at Valve are not limited by reporting structure, and are free to gravitate toward the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are never assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time based upon interest and what they feel they bring to the table.

Work Swarming & Talent
Work swarming, a process similar to the talent utilization process operating at Valve, is a type of spontaneous teaming mechanism borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy toward specific tasks. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in various workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Ultimately, 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 may be a general hesitancy to give up the security of prescribed roles within a traditional organizational hierarchy. As such, contributors remain in their designated lines of work. Common sense tells us that Valve’s way of doing things won’t work perfectly at all times for all organizations. But, we could adapt the process in specific sectors, it could be utilized. Yes, organizations may need some aspects of a set hierarchy —  but many functions 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 may be enhanced.

The “How To”
The implementation of swarming components would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas and projects — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — 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 to be a worthy endeavor.

Note:  A form of this post was originally published at Talent Zoo

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

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