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Consortium for Service Innovation

Intelligent Swarming Principles & Core Concepts

While Intelligent Swarming is proving to create tremendous value for customers, employees, and the organization, approaches to implementing a swarming system can vary greatly.  If we want to maximize our realized benefits, the four fundamental Principles and six Core Concepts of Intelligent Swarming are not negotiable. 

Much like KCS, as organizations embrace Intelligent Swarming, they must make decisions on how to approach certain challenges - some of which may be unique to their business or institution.  These Principles and Core Concepts are the criteria by which we can test how well specific practices and techniques align with the Intelligent Swarming philosophy.

Intelligent Swarming Principles

Over the years of working with hundreds of companies, leaders, and practitioners, the Consortium for Service Innovation Members have identified four Principles that are the foundation of success for any of the Consortium's methodologies.  The Intelligent Swarming Principles are the same as the KCS Principles; we have come to refer to them as the "Principles of an Adaptive Organization". 

principles quadrant.png

The four principles are:

  • Abundance
  • Create Value
  • Demand Driven
  • Trust




The more we share, the more we learn. 

Knowledge operates on a principle of abundance.  

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

- George Bernard Shaw

Research on innovation tells us that diversity is a critical element in creativity. Problem solving is a creative activity.  A group of people with a diverse set of perspectives will come up with better, more creative, and faster resolutions to issues than an individual or even a small group of experts. So the more people with diverse but relevant perspectives that have visibility to an issue, the better.  

In its ultimate state, Intelligent Swarming is an unbounded network that enables sharing, learning, and creativity. 

Create Value

Work tasks, think big picture. 

Knowing why we do what we do is as important as knowing how to do what we do. If we only understand the tasks and not the ultimate goal, the likelihood that we will create value is a shot in the dark. The degree to which knowledge workers will create value is related to the degree to which they understand the big picture, or the "why".  

This highlights the critical role leadership plays in communicating a vision.  A vision includes a compelling purpose, organizational values, a mission statement, and our brand promise. If knowledge workers understand and buy into the vision, they are far more likely to make decisions at the task level that create value in the context of the vision.  

Demand Driven

Just in time, not just in case.

One of the factors that contribute to the efficiency gains of Intelligent Swarming is the fact that not all issues or requests go through the same process.  The process and the people involved in developing a resolution is unique to the nature of the issue and the attributes of the requestor.

We want to make work visible to:

  1. those who are relevant to that work.
  2. relevant people able to collaborate on resolving the issue, when appropriate. 

In addition to a resolution, we also want to capture what we learned from resolving the issue and from any collaboration that happened in the resolution process. As we respond to demand from our customers or other knowledge workers in the network, we want to update our knowledge base. That can be improving an existing knowledge article or, if one doesn't exist, creating a new knowledge article.   


Engage, empower, motivate.

Patrick Lencioni wrote the famous business novel The Five Dysfunctions of a Team about teamwork, or more specifically, what can go wrong with teamwork. The absence of trust is an important one of these dysfunctions. In an Intelligent Swarming situation, there is often little time to build trust organically. Sometimes knowledge workers have to work with colleagues they’ve never met before, who may be in a different organization, geography, or time zone. Knowledge workers may feel hesitant to work with someone more senior than they are.  While we can ease some of these concerns with rich People Profiles and reputation models, a culture of collaboration will help knowledge workers embrace the new swarming processes, increase knowledge sharing in and across teams, and break down organizational silos.

Having a collaborative culture is a prerequisite for implementing Intelligent Swarming. In a competitive and siloed environment it will be hard (if not impossible) to ask knowledge workers to collaborate and share their knowledge. 

A collaborative culture is based on openness, transparency, and building trust. It focuses its energy on the search for solutions to challenges and leveraging opportunities rather than placing blame or searching for the “guilty.”  As remote work becomes the norm,  organizations have to put more effort in establishing a collaborative culture. 

As mentioned earlier leaders play an important role in creating a collaborative culture. Research about successful teams shows that "Teams do well when executives invest in supporting social relationships, demonstrate collaborative behavior themselves, and create what we call a 'gift culture' - one in which employees experience interactions with leaders and colleagues as valuable and generously offered, a gift."  A leader who wonders why people are talking to each other at the coffee machine, instead of “working,” is not nurturing a collaborative culture.

Intelligent Swarming Core Concepts

As we think about putting Intelligent Swarming into practice in our organization, the Core Concepts act as guardrails for our decision making.  These are the concepts that create and sustain a swarming system.

The six Intelligent Swarming Core Concepts are:

  • One team.
  • Work is work.
  • Relevant connections.
  • Enable collaboration.
  • Managers coach.
  • Recognize contribution.

One team

The organization functions as a single team with diverse skills.

  • People collaborate on problem solving
  • There are no distinct levels or tiers of support
  • Skills and competencies represent a person's capability

Work is work

Work is any activity that creates value and contributes to success.  

  • Work may come in as a case or incident, a question from a peer or an opportunity to help, the creation of new knowledge, or special project work
  • This expands the traditional thinking of a case, service request, or incident as the measure of work 
  • The problem-solving process is based on what the work is, not a pre-defined linear process

Relevant connections

Get the work to the person best able to solve it on the first touch.

  • Provide people with visibility to the work that is relevant to them based on skills and interests
  • Provide the ability for people to opt-in to work that is relevant to them based on skills and interests
  • The person who takes the work request owns it until it is resolved
  • Treat exceptions as exceptions, not the norm

Enable collaboration

Make it easy to offer help or ask for help.

  • People can find the best available person(s) to help, based on skills and availability
  • People who choose to help are recognized as contributors to success
  • Asking for and offering to help is part of the organization culture

Managers coach

Managers are facilitators and coaches, not judges or “owners” of a team.

  • Leverage the motivators: accomplishment, recognition, interesting work (Hertzberg), mastery, autonomy, and purpose (Pink)

Recognize contribution

Recognize the creation of value by individuals and teams.

  • Recognize the diversity of skills and competencies required to be successful
  • Recognition is criteria-based and based on the principle of abundance as opposed to a competitive model where there can only be one "winner"
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