Teaching Your Company to Swarm
Ivey Business Journal
In recent decades, observers from across disciplines have begun to apply the principles of natural swarm behaviour to artificial intelligence systems, humans, and business systems. Companies such as Spotify and Daimler are adopting swarm theory as a collective organizing framework. This may be because traditional group facilitation is hampered by prescriptiveness, horizontal growth, and groupthink and group polarization. Swarm facilitation is sustained by six core principles or beliefs: a) belief in collective behaviour and the collective intelligence of the group; b) belief that group work is part of a collaborative and complex adaptive system that is self-organizing and emergent rather than a controlled, prescriptive, and ready-made environment; c) belief that ideas collected in the group can contribute directly to organizational improvement or product development, or promote the wider networked learning organization; d) belief that diverse groups of collaborative stakeholders enhance innovation, decision making, and learning; e) belief that modern technology can support the filtering of information and ideas and enhance decision making; and f) belief that open innovation and collaboration promotes vertical growth. Research involving observing the migratory habits of honeybees offers five powerful lessons about what is needed for swarm facilitation to thrive: focus on real issues; split into teams; exercise collective leadership; embrace diversity; and use mechanisms to filter information. In the end, swarm theory is an organizing framework—inspired by the natural world—that promotes group collaboration and helps us navigate through complex adaptive systems.
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