I don’t see a lot of talk about team swarming (sometimes referred to as mobbing) yet it can be one of the most powerful problem-solving techniques for breaking through really difficult challenges. A swarm is where you get the whole team together to focus on solving a single problem. You can also focus on multiple problems but only one problem at a time. Here are seven strategies for effective team swarms:
1. Be a team
When swarming, the whole team works together on the same problem. It helps to know each other and work well together. Generally, groups need to go through the phases of forming (getting to know each other) and storming (having conflicts and resolving them) before they get to performing (being a highly functional team), so give everyone the space to become a team.
2. Swarm frequently
Swarming on a an important problem can be a great way to help a group come together as a team. It also builds problem-solving and collaboration skills so treat swarms as a team building exercise as well as a problem-solving exercise.
3. Encourage diversity
We all have unique talents and the more we are encouraged to bring out our best, the more we will. People are the key asset to any organization and we are motivated to make a difference more than to make money. Being great means taking risks so managers must provide safety to encourage greatness.
4. Pair within swarms
Swarms self-organize, they figure out what needs to be done and do it. Sometimes this requires the momentum of the whole group and other times parts of problems can be done in isolation. Rather than working alone, see if solitary tasks can be done by two or sometimes three people. Often, the momentum gained by working in pairs offsets putting two people on the same task. Remember, high performance teams almost always pair on tasks.
5. Check in frequently
I often like to treat swarms as mini-iterations. We swarm on critical unknowns so it is valuable to check in frequently to see progress and cross-pollinate ideas. I like to check in every twenty minutes but certainly no longer than every few hours.
6. Update estimates frequently
During check-ins, it is valuable to update estimates and reassess tasks as new information comes to light. Estimation is a skill that only improves with practice so the more frequently you update your estimates, the more accurate you become at estimating.
7. Engage everyone
Treating team swarms as a team building exercise can be a powerful way to support team members but only if everyone is engaged. Use exercises and processes that involve everyone, like fist-of-five and other estimation games, so everyone feels included and no one is left out.
Swarming is not for addressing all problems but it can be an effective tool for show-stoppers. When the whole team is engaged in solving a problem it creates a forward momentum that helps push passed impediments more effectively. Swarming can also be a valuable way of building problem-solving and collaboration skills on a team.