Updated: Jul 18
It’s becoming ever more evident that modern organisations have a serious problem.
They have great difficulty to find and keep, motivated personnel;
They are confronted with increasing sick leave and unexplained absence;
They exhibit huge inequality in employee career opportunities and renumeration;
And they are increasingly confronted with internal politics and corruption.
Organisations are waking up to the reality that people have changed their perspective on work, as much as they have changed their opinion about the role of large organisations in society. People, specifically young people, are moving away from globalist multinationals which prime objective it is to satisfy the demands of shareholders. They demand fair trade and societal relevance. Moreover, they strive for a high level of autonomy and see the individual as the yardstick for organisation. They prefer to work in start-ups or small regional businesses and they definitely reject any form of extensive management and hierarchy.
Although organisations promise their stakeholders to solve these problems with better process and regulations, many people just don’t buy it anymore and refuse to participate in these ventures. This leads to the conclusion that highly structured, hierarchy and control-oriented organisations show Co-Dependant behaviour, a remnant of 20th century industrial age “Economy First” thinking. As a result, they increasingly fail to create the much-needed Connective, Innovative and Adaptive Capacity to survive the challenges of the near future. In essence they are degenerative.
The solution is closer than we think and is basically handed to us by Nature in the form of self-organising systems: SWARMS. Swarms are Heterarchical. They are held together by a common interest or purpose. They consist of mutual beneficial autonomous networks where decisions are made together and profit and risk are shared. They are cooperative, seek equivalence, embrace diversity and autonomy and best of all, they give their participants energy. They revitalise.
How do we change the tide?
Many scholars have researched the principles of self-organisation and come to the conclusion that they are relatively easy to combine with those of humans. Yet, a recurring concern is how leadership works in such self-organising collectives. For this Nature provides a solution. But first and foremost, it is important to know that self-organisation is not without leadership. However, it is not fixed or based on power, as it is in human organisations. Swarms use adaptive distributed leadership and it always follows a need. In Swarms, leadership arises from an event and it emerges autonomously at the point of occurrence. We can visualise this as follows. When individuals somewhere in the swarm are confronted with an urgent situation, they immediately build local consensus and take action. This action is broadcasted to inform the rest of the swarm. Evidently, such urgent events can take place everywhere in the swarm, even simultaneously and often undetected by others. A swarm has to cope with multiple challenges in a continues changing environment. That’s why leadership in swarms needs to be role-based, dependent on individual responsibility and highly cooperative.
It takes only very little imagination to recognise the analogies between our current fast changing (business) environment, and that of natural swarms. Evidently, the principles of self-organising collectives such as swarms, will be equally beneficial to human organisations.
Do you want to improve the motivation, engagement and adaptive capacity of your organisation? Then look into the intriguing possibilities of SWARM Organisation. We believe in organisations that are more enjoyable, sustainable and profitable, for people and planet. If you like to know how we do this, just give us call !
Evert Bleijenberg MBA
Handwritten by Author without the help of A