Unleash Your Swarm Teams with Legal Methamphetamines

By | May 17, 2011

How do you fuel a 54-hour weekend work project swarm teams? Legal methamphetamines, of course — more on that later. This past weekend I participated in a Startup Weekend event, where web developers, designers and business types paid a nominal fee to gather at 6 pm on Friday for a competition to take an idea from concept to launch by Sunday night.

From concept to business launch in a weekend — that’s impossible, right? For old school business thinking, this is an impossible request. (I know executives who can take a month simply to return a phone call!)

So how did five swarm teams create viable startup businesses complete with live demos of their products, completed websites, social media marketing and financial projections in 54 hours? By using the new business methods required for creating an agile business.

Start with Swarm Intelligence

Swarm intelligence is where a collective group of talent assembles to address an issue. In this case, take an idea from concept to launch. On this Startup Weekend, teams were formed by each individual choosing the idea they felt drawn to and then offered his/her talents to the team. No job descriptions, no assigned roles. People were able to participate at their preferred level of involvement, interest and excitement.

Swarm intelligence in a business setting would work quite the same way. Post a specific project you want to accomplish, such as how to reduce customer wait time in your call center. Determine the talents you will need on this team, and open it up to participation.

The team selects the leader, the leader sets up job tasks within the team, and people volunteer for the part of the project they are most interested in working on. Each subgroup begins work on their section, and the overall team meets hourly to touch base to make sure everyone is traveling in the same direction. Toward the end of the project, the pieces are strung together for a final creation.

Now imagine asking your swarm team to work on this project over a weekend for no pay? Immediately, I can see the head shaking by old school executives as they exclaim, “This will never work!”

If I learned nothing else from this weekend experience, I learned this:

  • Really great talent finds its happiness in execution.
  • People are willing to work insane hours and put forth incredible effort for something they truly believe in.
  • A gathering of a team of people who have never worked together can accomplish an incredible success when everyone is committed to the outcome.

The old school business model of top-down thinking is flawed. Giving people a space to think for themselves, use their talents to the best of their abilities, and be proud of what they do is more about the employees telling us what they want to work on and what the best use of their talents is.
When someone is fully invested in the idea and is willing to volunteer their talents and work hard for no immediate compensation, you have a talent worth keeping.

If you post an idea for a weekend swarm project and no one signs up, you learn you either have the wrong talent in your organization, or as more often is the case, you have the wrong work environment for encouraging people to volunteer their talents. Either way, it is an indication of not being ready to compete in the new economy.

The Right Work Environment

The old school work environment is predicated on distrust — time clocks, set hours, closed door meetings, having to ask the boss to schedule time off, electronic pass keys, and the hierarchy of approval. The old school has personnel policies and restrictive codes written for the offending few at the expense of the many who can be trusted. This structure puts employees in a box, and they are told to do what they are instructed to do. Not much room for self expression or talent, is there?

“If my soldiers were to begin to think,
not one would remain in the ranks.”

– Frederick the Great

Employees are no longer low-skill, low-educated workers that populated factories 60 years ago. They are intelligent, skilled people, and the best talent of these is thinking at a high level.

The new work model appeals to those who have great talent. Companies who attract the best talent are the ones who are going to be the most successful in the new economy. Shifting from distrust to trust is important to creating the right work environment. The weekend work environment in which I participated was much more trust based.

So, what was provided for this weekend of work that I took part in?
Access to the workspace was 24/7, and no one had set hours. Mentors were available for questions, input and troubleshooting, but none were telling any team what to do or how to do it. Good food was brought in for meals at 8:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 5:30 pm.

An open space was provided for papering the walls with good ideas, a powerful wifi connection was maintained, small tables were easily moved to wherever they needed to be, and minimal oversight was given, other than to let people know when food had arrived.

Snacks were readily available for whenever someone felt the urge without having to feed a vending machine. A beer fridge was available, and the privilege was never abused. An iced down cooler with the sign “Free Legal Methamphetamines” offered ample amounts of 5-hour Energy Shots, Red Bull and Monster energy drinks.

People were given the freedom to work at their own pace, and the collaboration was constant. After years of advising old school businesses, I was floored at the potential of what could be accomplished by people motivated, talented, and ready to make something happen by Sunday night.

The new model of business success is dramatically different than the old school style, and is designed for success at the speed of change that is happening in the new economy. Are you ready to get on board? Let’s talk!

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