The 5-Step Guide to Flash Organizations

In the spring of 2020, we all observed how quickly the world can change and turn into crisis mode. Personally, we had to adapt to a lot of new things, and also companies had to react by sorting out their supply chains, transitioning into remote working, and keeping their financial streams liquid. Many were and still are in survival mode, while others dealt with massive growth.

New scenarios and challenges required new expertise. Among the many learnings of this period, the concept of a resilient workforce as well as the adaptability of companies and their employees will stay true in a post-pandemic world. The ability to expand your talent base quickly, and to get support and expertise while staying lean and agile, and ensuring the satisfaction of employees, will prospectively remain essential to economic success or failure.

Flash Organizations are only one component of the new work concept, that builds the superstructure of all of these ideas. Since the term was introduced by the New York Times in late 2017 , it has resonated with New Work thought leaders, HR professionals, consultants, and founders of talent marketplaces like myself. The millions of Google search results for “Flash Organization” show that the Stanford-rooted concept hit a nerve. A Flash Organization is a temporary team of experts built to execute complex projects. Roles within the team are based on individual skill sets. The team is formed within a very short time period to resolve a specific challenge. Upon completion of the project, the team dissolves.

The big advantage of Flash Organizations is their versatility. If it’s internal or external talent working locally or remotely — as long as it’s the best people for a project, the organizational subtleties don’t make any difference. Flash Organizations are not just an indicator of an agile organization, they are an essential part of it and are always relevant when expert knowledge and team work is needed.

And Flash Organizations aren’t just an abstract construct. Deutsche Telekom, for example, has organized
their Corporate Communications department in a Flash Organization setup based on a skill map since 2013. In fact, in the last few years, a vivid ecosystem has emerged which is supportive of the Flash Organization mindset. Internal talent marketplaces analyze and document the abilities and availability of all employees of an organization. They also manage mentoring and learning opportunities and help to set up teams.

External talent marketplaces have global networks with freelancing resources at their disposal. They give transparency to the market of freelancers (e.g. regarding per diems ) and often they are qualitative gatekeepers. They convey project specific support and take over administrative tasks.

However, are most companies prepared to work in Flash teams? In early 2020, we asked the consultants in our network about hurdles within companies that stand in the way of Flash team building. Despite Flash Organizations being en vogue in the blogosphere and being executed upon by some pioneering companies, consultants observed that the vast majority of companies aren’t ideally set up to build them in a structured way: neither strategically, nor procedurally or regarding their mindset. In fairness, some of this may have improved due to the experience of the crisis, when many companies gained new experiences with e.g. hybrid working models combining presence and remote.

The majority of companies I have worked with

The surveyed consultants say that companies are limited and slowed down because of processes and departmental boundaries. Apart from that they know too little about their own talent pool and don’t have a sufficient network to be able to gather external support. The good news is, these hurdles can be overcome. Finding and installing the right knowledge mapping tool will be easier than changing a company’s general hierarchical mindset, but it’s all doable. Just not in a day.

If you are willing to give Flash Organizations a try, then I recommend easing into it with a pilot program. It will give you the proof of concept you might need to convince critical voices resistant to change.

  1. Start small – Choose a department that is predominantly working on projects, not processes. Marketing & Communications, or IT & Product might be suitable departments.

  2. Work with the best – Identify the best people for the project in your company. Do not make compromises, apart from availability, and do not limit yourself by strictly adhering to internal hierarchies. If you find someone suitable in a different department, involve them, too.

  3. Incentivize the Flash Mindset – Reward employees for supporting Flash projects, for example, team leads that agree to let their employees work on projects outside of the department.

  4. Create partnerships – If you can’t build your team with in-house talent only, or would make huge compromises regarding fit if you did, then turn to external talent marketplaces. Maybe you need to test several providers until you find the right one. COMATCH offers a lot of inspiration regarding the perfect collaboration between marketplaces and independents. Apart from that, you can get further ideas in Jon Younger’s articles about the “Freelance Revolution ”.

  5. Get better each time – Exchange with your employees and external partners about what is going well and what can be improved. Adapt constantly based on their feedback and make sure you keep them involved and onboard.

If you follow these tips, you will see changes throughout your organization. There will probably be setbacks, some departments and colleagues will enjoy adapting, others will struggle. In a matter of time, questions will definitely arise: which tasks are the core tasks of a company and need to be handled by permanent employees, and which ones need to be covered by external ones? How do you ensure that new knowledge stays in the company and will be retrievable in the future? You can find the answers all together. Do not give up too quickly when creating your company’s Flash Organization blueprint. If you succeed, your company will be more agile and resilient to whatever may come in the future — a true competitive advantage in a world that changes so rapidly.

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