Want to Build Agility? Your Organization Needs to Be Doing This

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Please note: I am re-sharing this post with updated links.

In 2010, Gartner published a fascinating list of how the world of work may change going forward.

All of the ideas posed were intriguing (and on target). However, one idea in particular — the concept of a “work swarm” caught my attention. Whether the dynamic is discussed as The Hollywood Model or simply hyper-responsive cross-functional teaming, the ability to quickly collect contributors to solve evolving issues or opportunities is vital. (More on a why cross-functional teams might eventually fail here.)

Borrowed from nature, Gartner describes a work swarm as a “flurry of collective activity” to deal with non-routine issues and opportunities. The concept implies expressed agility (See a PDRI’s ARA Model here) — and we can easily apply this idea to how organizations deal with emerging/evolving challenges. Moreover, the ability to “swarm” and quickly assemble cross-functional teams to problem solve, could be viewed as a key marker with regard to an organization’s potential to remain sustainable.

Without this ability, organizations may fall short when responding to both internal stress and the changing demands of the external environment.

Stretching 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 consistently 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 also requires effective communication internally, concerning challenges and potential team members. So even before the “swarm”, the organizations must be prepared.

For example, one key issue 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 curate data to document information concerning current roles, team membership and areas of expertise.

Platforms such as InnoCentive, have facilitated communication of key challenges, in an outward-facing way —  whereby stubborn 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. However, this same idea could be utilized internally.

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. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

7 thoughts on “Want to Build Agility? Your Organization Needs to Be Doing This

  1. Great concept. With right communication strategy and infrastructure, the potential for customer satisfaction for a new product or an iteration is tremendous. Great stuff ..


  2. This is excellent, I find that the hardest part of achieving this is what could be termed “legacy culture”. It’s one thing to break free with your own mindset, it is another for a work culture to break free of it’s inherent bondage to the past.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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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