Swarmwise outlines optimizing a swarm through three variables – speed, trust, and scalability. This article will address how to organize the swarm scaffolding and optimize the swarm as originally presented by Rick Falkvinge in Swarmwise.
A swarm achieves speed through removing all conceivable bottlenecks. This is the purpose of the officer scaffolding – removal of bottlenecks to optimize progression of the swarm.
The same is true for a new company. A new market entrant cannot compete with more established companies and must maximize its speed to bring innovative products to market faster. Customer service should also be faster. In fact, nearly everything with a new company should be faster when compared to established competitors.
A few highlights concerning trust as outlined within Swarmwise:
– Keep the swarm transparent
– Give everybody a very far-reaching mandate to act on his or her own
– Clearly communicate that different people drive the swarm’s goals in different ways, and that we all trust one another to do what he or she believes is best, even if we don’t understand it ourselves
Trust is important to any organization but is critical to the success of a new company. Without trust things will fall apart quickly and the company will lack the stability to overcome challenges. Transparency breeds trust. Although everything cannot be transparent, a goal of making a team as transparent as possible is ideal.
Swarmwise recommends the following organizational design to optimize scalability:
– Construct the entire scaffolding at its finished size at the swarm’s get-go
– Leave 99% of the roles in the scaffolding empty for now, this will allow for downward growth
Scalability is one of the greatest challenges that a growing business faces. Getting the timing right can be tricky. Do it too soon and you run the risk of overspending and not recovering, too late and you potentially miss the opportunity.
On the lighter side of scalability I found this quote from Rick Falkvinge to highlight the fun parts of scaling an organization:
“The first time you notice that somebody you’ve never heard of has been appointed to formal responsibility, it feels like magic, and it shows that the scaling-out is working.”
Another interesting concept concerning scaling relates to appointment of two individuals to fill a given leadership role – a primary and deputy:
“Let’s take a typical geography as an example. It could be a country, it could be a city, it could be a state, doesn’t matter. From the experience with the Swedish Pirate Party, we know that a particular geography works best when there is not just one geography leader, but a leader and deputy who divide the work among themselves and who cover for one another. These people become go-to people for everything that happens in the area. The advantage of having two people is that people can drop out for a while from time to time. We can change jobs, we can fall madly in love, we can get sick, or we can lose interest in activism briefly fro ma myriad of other reasons. This is human, and always OK. If there are two people sharing the workload, the activity doesn’t stop when one drops out for a while.”
Although this example is specific to a non-profit activist organization, I wonder if it might be equally relevant to a private enterprise, especially an early stage high growth company.
Another interesting related point concerning the advantage of two people within a single role:
“If you feel you need to take a break from activism, that is always the right thing to do. It’s always better to get rested and come back than to burn out and get better. There will always be something to do when you come back: you don’t have to worry about the world running out of evil while you’re away.” – Christian Engstrom, Member of the European Parliament
The preceding led me to consider the implementation of having the leadership roles in a high growth company being two deep. Imagine if you could push forward in your given role at full capacity and know you could step away without harming the organization or losing your place within it. As long as the two individuals maintaining the single role were in agreement the company could move forward uninterrupted. I have witnessed the burn out myself and it’s generally difficult to recover capable people once they’ve reached that point.
Swarmwise outlines the following support functions when building the swarm scaffolding – PR/Media, Activism, Swarmcare, and Information/Web. Each support function possesses an individual leader and deputy.
PR/Media is pretty self explanatory and pretty much equates to marketing/PR functions within a company.
Information/Web is also self-explanatory and in my opinion equates to an overlap of a company’s IT and Web marketing roles.
Activism is described as the individual activist activities (i.e., staging a rally, handing out flyers, putting up posters, etc.). The activism leader is basically responsible for removing impediments and the practical details of making these activities happen. In regards to a private company I wonder if it would make sense to have a grassroots equivalent to such activities? Imagine someone facilitating individuals and maybe even customers promoting your product.
Next, Swarmcare is comprised of the following:
“The person responsible for swarmcare would welcome new activists into the swarm and continually measure the overall health of it. A typical task would be to call new activists just to make them feel welcome, and tell them when the next events – social as well as operational – take place.”
This feels like Human Resources to me but with a much greater emphasis on the well-being of the swarm and each individual within it. Whereas traditionally HR has been perceived as a litigation deflector for a private company, the swarmcare role appears to take into consideration that a happy activist (or employee) is good for everyone involved including the swarm and company. By using the words “swarmcare” in the title it reinforces the singular purpose of the role to everyone within the organization.
The following is a chart of the proposed swarm organizational layout as proposed by Swarmwise:
In terms of assigning formal roles, it should be done with purpose and the assignment should be obvious:
“People should not be appointed to these positions because it’s fun to have a title, rather the organizational chart should lag slightly behind the observed reality. When somebody has already taken on the de-facto role of fixing all the practical stuff for rallies for example, and everybody already knows that that person is the one to call to get the PA to a rally – that’s when the org chart should be updated to reflect that.”
According to Swarmwise, one should not be afraid to have empty boxes on their org chart as it provides opportunity:
“So do not be afraid of empty boxes in the organizational chart. They provide opportunity for somebody to step up to the plate informally, at which point the chart can be updated to reflect reality. It can help to thinking of the organizational chart as the map rather than the terrain – when there’s conflict between the two, the terrain wins every time. The organizational chart is an estimate, at best of what the organization looks like.”
This feels very much like the way a commercial startup operates. People just begin doing things as things need to be done that are in alignment with an individual’s skills and passion. Most times, most true entrepreneurs are not concerned with a badge or title but are just looking to contribute towards moving the team forward. A title, should an opportunity present itself, is really just an added bonus for doing something they already love.
Image Credit: LeadQual