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7-Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities

For a company to operate as an intelligent swarm, it must be clear who will do what, who is responsible for what. This also involves delineating which areas are outside an individual’s scope of duties and responsibilities. Everything must be transparent and obvious to everybody involved.

For example, here are a few roles in a modern company: Developer, Scrum Master, Product Owner, Business Analyst, Release Engineer, and Solution Architect. But their actual responsibilities vary widely from company to company. In any case, they must all work closely together, as an intelligent swarm.

For swarm intelligence to succeed, the individuals composing the swarm must also work to minimize social entropy. This applies to meetings, communication between teams, and exchanges within teams.
What is social entropy?

It’s a kind of disruptive noise that arises from a mixture of ambition, the need to communicate, and the need to be seen. No one is free from this toxic cocktail. Because ambition, and the desire to gain recognition are quite simply human. People want to talk to each other, to make speeches, to be heard, and to be taken seriously. Verbal exchange is a basic need. But there is a difference between purposeful swarm communication, and chatter.

Idle chatter distracts the swarm, and impedes shared focus. Talk at the coffee machine is often entertaining, relaxing, and therefore valuable. But without focused, purposeful communication, no progress can be made. Only communication related to helping the swarm navigate to its shared goal and beyond has real value.

Take an example from the world of birds: flocks of starlings form patterns of motion in the sky that appear as clouds coordinated by a unseen hand. Thousands of birds become moving 3D clouds, constantly reorganizing until the flock suddenly alights somewhere.

How do the starlings do it?

A lead bird initiates the movement, flying up out of a tree or the grass. Six to seven follow. These six to seven are each followed by six to seven in close proximity (called topological distance). That is the principle. Then the entire swarm is airborne. It’s an exponential system for coordination in space. All as if it were an intelligent vector graphic consisting of mobile motion detectors that simultaneously serve as pulse generators for movement. While there is plenty of bird chatter associated with all of these movements, what seems most determining is the movement itself. Probably the movement is itself the actual means of communication for coordinating movement.

Swarms of starlings (as well as some schools of fish) can thus move in a self-organized and coordinated manner as a swarm because they have minimized entropy during swarming. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined for all individuals in the swarm.

Don’t worry, we’re not promoting treatment of employees as swarms of birds.

But understanding the unseen principle is fundamentally important. A swarm is capable of operations that a mere group of individuals cannot perform. A group of individuals can be turned into an army operating according to rules and orders. Such armies can move in a reasonably coordinated way in one direction. But this movement is two-dimensional. The swarm moves on the basis of principles. These principles are validated with each movement, and optimized through micro-adjustments as needed.

The movement as a swarm is three-dimensional.

In the digital age of multidimensional dependencies, only multidimensional movement as an intelligent swarm leads to long term-success. Those who fail to understand this can expect crash landings.

The central tool for coordinating multidimensional movement is targeted communication, communication delimited by the roles and responsibilities of the participating employees. The core of goal-oriented communication is that competence should consult competence, and do so competently via asynchronous channels. The exchange at the coffee machine is also asynchronous because not scheduled, but it falls into the category of chatter. Chatter can rise to the level of competence, but it primarily serves individual well-being, which, though valuable, does not generally assist swarm navigation. Idle talk is best kept to a minimum, because idle talk is inherently incompetent. Gossip and slander are forces of pure entropy.

Definition of clear roles and responsibilities of employees, plus structured goal-oriented communication, minimizes entropy and enables efficient self-organization for multi-dimensional agility. This agility is essential in the digital era.