A workplace in NOW mode – the HIVE model

Now ModeIn the past year, there have been two themes I wrote and spoke about that have generated a great deal of interest: one is the concept of “NOW Mode”; and the other is the use of social tools in business. As I wrote previously, these two elements go hand in hand. Working in NOW Mode is best achieved through the use of virtual spaces as the medium for communication between people in an operation.

NOW Mode, as a principle, is easy to understand. Basically, if something happens now, deal with it now. Simple, huh? Well, NOW Mode for an individual is a very simple – even commonplace – concept. It is the opposite of procrastination and anyone can do it.

What is not so easy is to put an entire organization working in NOW mode. It would require that at the very least the core groups of the organization operate in this mode and, therefore, there be no queues, no backlogs, no delays, no waiting for a meeting to resolve a problem, etc. It equates to an organization operating in real time.

Which then begs the question: how do you structure people in order to actually process business in NOW Mode?

Deliberate CollaborationThe use of virtual spaces in the workplace, the application of the “Facebook metaphor” to the work environment is another issue that seems to be challenging many organizations. Although the penetration of social tools like Yammer, Moxie, Jive, Chatter, Sharepoint and even Facebook, in the workplace is fairly common by now (see here and here), by and large they are not being used as the medium to conduct core business and to operate. I believe they are being used ‘occasionally’ as a peripheral technology and not as a paradigm for business processing right at the core of the enterprise.

For quite some time, I’ve been working with some friends in an outright method on how to organize the workplace to operate in NOW Mode and to make use of social media.

The best I was able to do in the past was to promote the notion of Spontaneous Association, which is a fundamental characteristic of how individuals behave as a group when facing a common crisis or challenge. But how do you leverage this behaviour across the organization? Where do you begin?

The HIVE Method

Our answer to this challenge is the HIVE method. HIVE stands for Human Interaction Virtual Environment. Today, we will present the basic notion of the HIVE construct. In later articles, we will detail an approach that can be used to implement this method and will attempt to address the many issues that the method raises.

Let me first point out that HIVE is not an organization structure – at all! HIVE is a way to arrange the work environment and the people within it so that the operation of the enterprise takes maximum advantage of Spontaneous Association and so that the processing of business occurs in NOW Mode at incredible speed. HIVE is a social method – not a linear method or a military method to organize work.

HIVE Units and Pods

The POD copy

A HIVE Unit (for simplicity, we will use “HIVE Unit” and “HIVE” as synonymous) is a cluster of components that we call Pods. A Pod encapsulates an (or several) individual performing a specific Role. As an example, a Customer Service Rep would be a Pod.

Hence, in one HIVE , there are a variety of Pod’s of multiple disciplines whom, together, create a community. Inside a HIVE, people communicate by Spontaneous Association in response to external events or stimuli. The communication pathways amongst the individuals in the Pods of the HIVE are instantiated through Spontaneous Association. Hence, if something goes wrong in the scope that affects a particular HIVE, the people in the HIVE, given their respective Roles, will construct solution paths and take action accordingly.

Scope of a HIVE Unit

But what is the scope of one HIVE Unit? This is where everything succeeds or fails so we’ve been careful to establish simple guidelines to help businesses choose their HIVEs. Essentially, a HIVE Unit delivers something that is significant to a customer and entails all the core Pods needed to perform that mission. By definition, then, a HIVE Unit is not a Function because in a Functional structure, no one group can produce something that is significant to a customer and whatever a business does that is significant to a customer always involves multiple Functions.

HIVEs aren’t single processes either but their orientation is process-driven. As an example, if you are a manufacturing operation and the product you manufacture requires multiple phases, you can’t have a HIVE for each phase because the result of each phase is an intermediate product that a customer can’t do anything with.

In a pharmaceutical manufacturer, it is common to have a whole operation that produces tablets in bulk; and then another operation that puts those tablets into “presentation” forms like bottles or blisters, which is called “Packaging” (other industries do the same: e.g., Beer or Soft Drinks). It may be that the bulk product is already significant to a customer since, indeed, that is what the ultimate consumer consumes. Hence, yes, you could have a HIVE for Bulk production; and another for Packaging. However, bulk tablets are analyzed by a Quality Control laboratory and a release by Quality Assurance officers. Hence, if you had a Manufacturing HIVE, it would have to include Pods for QC and QA in addition to the various Manufacturing Roles since tablets that have not been analyzed and released are not significant to a customer.

HIVE Units, therefore, are large in scope. In an enterprise, you could have the following basic types of HIVE Units:

– Product Development

– Market and Customer Development

– Market Supply [or Supply Chain]

– Product Manufacturing

– Infrastructure

However, you can have several instances of each of the above. As an example, there could be multiple Market Supply HIVEs per market or even per customer, depending on the business. You can have several Product Manufacturing HIVEs by manufacturing site. Within a manufacturing site, you could have multiple HIVEs by product line or product technology. Following is an example of a “Market Supply” HIVE with its main Pod’s.

Market Supply HIVE

Notice that there are no management roles (i.e., no ‘power’ roles from a hierarchy) in a HIVE.

The Pods in a HIVE

Once you’ve subdivided the environment into HIVE Units, it’s not very difficult to decide which Pods need to be in each HIVE. If a HIVE Unit delivers something significant to a customer, you just have to include all the Roles needed to perform all the tasks related to that delivery mission. Of course, don’t go too far with this criteria or else you will end up with a single HIVE Unit for the whole Enterprise.

You must keep in mind that communication occurs within a HIVE but equally across HIVE’s. In addition, the same Role – i.e., the same Pod – will be present in multiple HIVEs. Thus, if one HIVE needs another HIVE, they just communicate. What is important is that most of the time, all the core Roles needed to perform a HIVE’s mission scope are present in that HIVE community.

How to structure Pods?

Pod and controls

A Pod is not just a person with a Role. That Role has to be able to do some specific things – if they are not specific, how do you know you have everything you need for the HIVE to perform correctly? Hence, if we ‘open up’ a Pod what we see is what we call Controls. Controls are things that a person with that Role is able to do. They are processes or steps of processes and must be seen essentially as capabilities.

There are ways to determine that Pods are whole, i.e., that each Pod encompasses all the necessary controls that are associated with its Role. I will write about Pod and Role design in another article. For the moment, let’s just stipulate that a Pod has a very specific construct. It is not enough to have a “job description” for the Role of the Pod. There needs to be a clear definition of all the controls required in that Pod in relation to the mission of the HIVE or HIVE’s where we find it.

The speed of HIVE’s working in NOW mode

In an HIVE, Pods are always on, i.e., they are constantly working, always ‘pumping’. This in fact is the real world – there is no sequence. You don’t find a Supply Chain Analyst starting in the morning and running a supply plan; then a Buyer goes in the afternoon and issues purchase orders; then the warehouse works on the night shift to receive materials. Everybody is ‘running’ all the time. A HIVE mirrors that pattern.

However, a HIVE is a community of people working together. Individuals are linked by simply being aware of each other’s roles and their joint mission. When something is required, they respond quickly through Spontaneous Association and start acting, each one doing what is required from its Role. Each Pod is equipped with the necessary Controls so you know that eventually the HIVE will produce the desired response.

Using Social Tools, action pathways are represented by conversation threads, as I described briefly in another article. These action pathways can be of two types:

Business as usual: Pod interactions are based on standard processes for basic business transactions. HIVE’s run fast, they don’t accumulate backlogs, they are reliable, but they work as prescribed.

Unexpected events: this is where a HIVE excels. Action pathways are constructed spontaneously as solutions to problems, without direction by management. As I’ve said many times, no hierarchy can construct solutions to problems and deploy those solutions faster than the power of association of the Pods in a HIVE.

As a specific HIVE Unit matures, there develops what may be called collective intelligence of the HIVE, meaning the action pathways that are reused multiple times in response to similar events.

Summary of the HIVE model

As mentioned earlier, a HIVE is not an organization structure. Rather, it is a deliberate approach to arrange the skills in the organization into communities with strategic missions, to foster social collaboration and to provide an environment that is open to and engaging of Spontaneous Association as a fundamental behaviour in business processing. Instead of letting collaboration and communities occur casually and without direction, the HIVE model provides constructs and principles that make collaboration the core of the enterprise.

A single HIVE Unit corresponds to a fairly large scope of business activity since a HIVE is meant to be self-sufficient at delivering results that are meaningful to a customer, i.e., something that a customer, seeing it from outside the enterprise, considers meaningful for his/her purposes. For that reason, HIVE’s are not only strategic in their role, they are extremely high value units of operation.

Because of the customer-principle that drives the mission of a HIVE, it is likely that there will be no waste nor superfluous Roles or Controls. In later articles I will describe the details of how to refine Roles in a HIVE and you will see then that the principles we recommend for the model are consistent with Lean Thinking. The approach will “drive waste out of the system”.

HIVE’s process business at “lightening speed” compared to traditional structures. Everything functions in NOW Mode because individuals are connected to the right individuals in order to take action as events occur. A HIVE liberates employees from all the paraphernalia that slows down organizations: having to talk to the boss, not going across departmental lines, not knowing who will make a decision, needing to call and wait for a meeting, etc., etc. In a HIVE, things are done when they need to be done – i.e., they are done NOW!

The big change (relative to traditional environments) in how people interact in a HIVE is Spontaneous Association: when an event occurs – whether it is business as usual (e.g., a customer order) or a surprise (a supplier that is delayed at the last minute), the people in a HIVE spontaneously construct action pathways to respond to the event. And this goes on all day – nothing slowing them down, just move, move, move, go, go, go!!

Spontaneous Association and the dynamic interactions in a HIVE have to occur in virtual spaces enabled by Social Tools. Today, I don’t see any other way. Virtual Spaces liberate people from the constraints of the physical world – office cubicles, conference rooms, calendar availability, etc. In a virtual space, people can step into an issue as soon as they can and they can work on many issues at the same time. In my organization I encourage people to work through social tools even if some of the people in their HIVE’s are sitting next to them.


I realize that this article raises a lot of questions and doesn’t answer them. This is just an introduction to the model and I do hope that it will generate a lot of questions. You can leave your issues here in this Blog as comments to this post and I will try to address them. Nonetheless, I will write several articles as follow-up to this intro to address many basic and important questions, such as:

  • Can the HIVE model be implemented in a Functional organization? If so, how do you overcome the contradiction between the HIVE ‘workplace’ and the command and control ‘vocation’ of functional hierarchies?
  • How do you reconcile the HIVE model with Business Process maps?
  • How many people can work in a single HIVE unit? I.e., what is the scale of the model? How large can it get?
  • In a very large organization, how do you keep HIVE’s structured? How does it not become a mess?
  • What happens to leadership in this model? What do Managers, Directors, Executives, etc., do?
  • If the actions in a HIVE are not “directed”, as written herein, does it mean that there is no leader in a HIVE? Who designs HIVE’s and assigns them their missions?
  • What happens to accountability in a HIVE environment? If a HIVE fails in its mission (e.g., a drop in service levels, a quality issue), whom do you “call to task”?
  • How do you tie the business strategy of an Enterprise to the missions of HIVE units? How do you translate the objectives of a business into ‘mandates’ for HIVE units? How do you monitor that connection from Enterprise mission to HIVE missions? How do you assess performance of a HIVE Unit in terms of Enterprise business objectives?
  • What happens to financial responsibility in a HIVE model? How does a HIVE unit respond to or “self-manages” operating budgets?

Nonetheless, I hope this method will help organizations demystify the social enterprise phenomenon and use the HIVE metaphor to understand and come to terms with the shift in business models that is occurring out there. My intent is to help companies switch into NOW Mode in a structured and controlled way, without mystery and without risk.


  1. Very interesting approach to put forward human interactions. We’ve spent a lot of time to structure organization in the 20th century to maximize output of the industrial era and the tools/equipment we’ve created and the 21st century will probably be more into, as you suggest above, how human interactions could only take us to go to the next level.

    Looking forward to the next articles.


  2. Great article Tony. I actually relate a lot of your thinking to how a start up is organized and survives. In the absense of a organizational structure, with limited resources, a startup has to be “communities with strategic missions” even if those “communities” are just a few individuals inside or outside the org. And if we weren’t focused on “strategic missions” start-ups would be fighting fires all day. Great insights.


  3. Tony, great thoughts behind this. You’ve outlined a framework that can help organizations move from traditional command-and-control structures to self-forming networks. The beauty is that those networks can span multiple organizations that comprise a manufacturing supply chain. I’m looking forward to your future articles!


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