What Are Flash Organizations? Behind the Buzzword

July 20, 2017 Leah Hoffmann

flash organizations: group of people assembling a puzzle

“Soon you’ll see huge companies with just two employees—the CEO and CIO” John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco, said in 2015.

According to Stanford professors Melissa Valentine and Michael Bernstein, that future has arrived. In a recent paper, the pair took a look at so-called flash organizations: teams that come together to tackle specific, complex problems, then disband, much like emergency workers or Hollywood producers.

Read the latest piece in our Behind the Buzzword series to learn more about where it’s all headed.

What are flash organizations?

Flash organizations combine the flexibility of online crowdsourcing and the managerial complexity of traditional brick-and-mortar companies. The workforce in flash organizations is fluid, assembled on demand from online labor markets. But, like a traditional business, it’s organized into a hierarchy that powers more effective collaboration and enables it to adapt as work progresses, whether by shifting roles or adding teams.

So what’s new?

As Valentine and Bernstein point out, crowdsourcing only works for goals “that are so simple and modular that their path can be entirely pre-defined.” By organizing on-demand workers into roles, teams, and hierarchies, the researchers discovered they could support the execution of far more complex tasks. They could also coordinate on broader and more open-ended goals.

Like what?

The researchers tested the model on three different projects. The True Story organization developed a mobile app in which players swap stories from their daily lives. The EMS Trauma Report organization created a mobile app that enables emergency medical technicians to send advance reports while en route to the hospital. And the Enterprise Workshop Planning Portal organization engineered a web application to administer client workshops.

Why are big companies paying attention?

Valentine and Bernstein developed an online management system they called Foundry to manage their flash organizations. But that’s not the only way for big companies to take advantage of the concept.

Until recently, as New York Times reporter Noam Scheiber suggested in an article, economists have argued it would be prohibitively expensive to hire, train, and monitor workers separately for each project that a large company might undertake. Now, thanks to advances in technology, and companies like Business Talent Group who can help them resource, structure, and oversee the work, it’s easier than ever for big companies to engage effective temporary teams on projects from S&OP transformation to oncology market access.

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About the Author

Leah Hoffmann

Leah Hoffmann is a former journalist who has worked for Forbes.com and The Economist. She is passionate about clear thinking, sharp writing, and strong points of view.

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