Swarm Intelligence and Organizational Structure

Ants or bees are not exactly the most intelligent creatures in the world, individually speaking. Yet, get a million of them together and they manage to migrate, build gravity defying architectures and create very complex social systems. How do they do it? They combine their intelligences to form one big collective intelligence. Scientists call this collective intelligence Swarm Intelligence.

Swarm intelligence can achieve feats far beyond the capability of an individual. Most of the animal kingdom is ruled by this intelligence, in small or big groups. How swarm intelligence works for so many varied species is that it is based on the following 3 principles:

Flexibility – The ability of the group to change course or get creative when faced with an obstacle.

Robustness – Even if one individual cannot perform, the group can.

Self-Organization – No clear hierarchical leadership resulting in central control or supervision.

In fact, it is very rare to find a natural top down structure in nature where there is central control. For example, if the human body were organized according to a top-down structure, all the cells in the body would need to consult with the brain before acting. We would be literally incapable of moving and thinking at the same time.

Now, this holds true for companies that need to manage flows of information and be creative and innovative as well. Yet, humans love top down rigid structures, especially in business organizations.

Traditionally hierarchical organizations are structurally incapable of adapting to change and are incapable of taking new information onboard. Information has to reach the top of the pyramid before coming back down. It is a waste of time and a loss of efficiency that affects the company's creative potential and profits.

Successful companies have understood this. Highly innovative companies such as Google, Microsoft and Dreamworks have a dynamic, shifting network organizational structure. Teams are constantly forming and dissolving.

This kind of a structure is not flat. It is ever changing. It is cross-functional. This kind of structure, as we have discovered at Captain Dash, works very well when you are working with Micro Services. Instead of teams we have hubs. These hubs grow and move to make space for talent. New hubs can be created without damaging existing hubs.

The most successful managers will enlarge their hubs. Individuals know that such a system enables them to flourish. Their career will be determined by their talent, not their political ability to climb a pyramid-shaped structure.

This system is effective because it is natural.

There is no obstruction to the flow of information and chains of command are short.

Managers behave more like entrepreneurs than soldiers.

The key to success is the flexibility of decentralized networks.

Written By: Bruno Walther