Adhocracy: the next step in agile HR?

Sophie Heatley, Content Writer · 07 Nov

Organisational structures are the foundation of all businesses. A business simply can’t function without one. But which one is best? Could adhocracy be the way forward?

We’re living in a world where humans are being dwarfed by big data, information overload and artificial intelligence. How can we make sure our business strategies keep up to date with such momentous change? Is adhocracy the organisational model of the future?

First of all, what is adhocracy? Who’s idea was it?

Adhocracy is an organisational philosophy developed by writer Alvin Toffler in the 1970s. The term was originally coined by Warren Bennis in 1968 in his book The Temporary Society, but Toffler soon after popularised the concept in his own novel Future Shock.

Now widely used in the theory of management practices, adhocracy is a popular though often debated style of organisational management. Bennis and Toffler both spoke of an organisational culture which worked in opposition to typical bureaucratic operations.

Adhocracy works in opposition to bureaucracy because it doesn’t rely on a set of defined rules or a set hierarchy.

Adhocracy is a system of flexible and informal organisation and management. The system encourages innovative and creative thinking over establishing proper rules or standards for conduct or formalised procedures.

Bureaucracy in business is often favoured because it seems most ‘functional’. Bureaucratic environments normally have a rigid hierarchical structure where there are set rules to follow and communicational processes to adhere to.

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In a bureaucracy, the different levels of seniority and responsibility are clear; decision-making is always made at the top of the organisation. In bureaucratic corporate culture, the professional managers are in charge of any verdicts concerning planning, standardisation or manufacturing at all levels of the organisation.

Adhocracy cuts through normal bureaucratic boundaries by favouring malleable business structures and self-direction above autocratic leadership models.

With adhocracy culture, rather than just the executives making decisions, organisational coordination comes through communication between all levels and all employees. There is more focus on mutuality because leadership is decentralised. There isn’t a single person in charge of the companies’ fate, but rather everyone gets their say.

In this way, when it comes to HR and business management, adhocracy is arguably more agile because it allows companies to morph their current business structures and cultures to mirror the pace of a fast developing industry. In other words, business structures are able to develop organically.

Without formalised procedures, adhocracy can be effective in fast-changing industries because organisations can act and adapt quickly according to the latest opportunities, giving them a competitive advantage.  

What kind of organisational problems do management face? And why is it necessary to have a proper organisational model?

Businesses encounter management problems all the time. This is why it’s so important to have an organisational model in place. An organised business structure will ensure any problems that arise are dealt with quickly and effectively.

Having a clear structure means your employees know who is responsible for dealing with what problem, how to contact them, and most importantly, how to communicate the problem in the first place.

Some of the most common problems that managers face when it comes to organising their business and practice is poor training, lack of communication and the inability to deal with routine mess-ups.

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Poor risk management or training

Lack of employee training is synonymous with poor risk management. If your staff aren’t trained to do their job properly, there is undoubtedly a higher risk that something will go wrong on the job.

This is especially an issue in service industries and in industries where specialist kit or technology need to be used. But even in your typical office job, if you don’t receive the necessary coaching, how can you expect to get the best results for your company?  

Organisation is key when it comes to training staff. Managers need to know how to structure training so it works alongside their day-to-day responsibilities while simultaneously advancing their progress in the role. Training is crucial, but shouldn’t cause employees to neglect their to-do list.

Likewise, it needs to be clear who is in charge of mentoring and coaching. Will this be internal, senior members of staff? Or will this be participation in an external training programme?

Other things to consider might be budgeting, timescales, whether it will be on an individual or collective basis, or how advanced the training will be. For instance, is the training for junior, mid-weight, senior or executive members of staff?

Lack of clear communication

Communication can also be a sore spot for some businesses. This is where adhocracy reveals some of its pitfalls. Where companies have more ambiguous roles or positions, it isn’t always clear whose responsibility it is to deal with certain situations.

As already stated, a lack of clearly defined leadership roles can lead to chaos due to the unclear distribution of tasks. With poorer divisions of labour and responsibilities, staff might not know who to hold accountable for what job.

On a material level, technology can also hinder communication too. With new websites, apps and networks being created all the time, it’s difficult for companies to always stay up to date. With increasingly digital forms of communication, companies have to keep adapting and updating their systems of communication.

Less verbal communication and more written, digital communication can also mean that ideas and opinions are twisted or misunderstood. Sometimes, when messages aren't voiced in person, they can be misconstrued. 

For modern corporations to be successful, communication is key. Any functioning, well-integrated organisation will have exceptional communication as one of its main business strategies.

Solving routine problems and maintaining morale

Both of the above issues hinder resolving routine problems. If there is poor communication between staff or a lack of the necessary training to deal with everyday mishaps, staff may begin to lose motivation and morale.

One of the most common issues managers face is figuring out how to boost morale and productivity.

Coming back to communication and training, studies have shown that when employees feel integral to their companies’ goals and ambitions, they are more likely to work harder and go the extra mile. Goal alignment itself strengthens leadership and helps employees feel like they’re working towards a shared objective.

HELP

Workplace problems can snowball without any clear organisational structure.

With poor training, staff aren’t clear on how to deal with certain situations. Without sound communication, these situations are not effectively communicated to the necessary members of staff. And, as we’ve seen, when staff don’t feel they have clearly defined roles or responsibilities within their company, they feel demotivated and demoralised.

What a headache. But, there is a solution. In fact, more than a solution, there is a way to prevent all the above from taking place. You just have to choose which of the organisational culture models suits your company dynamic, and then hop to it. Get organised!

Different organisational culture models

There is a management model to suit all different types of working culture. Here, we will compare and contrast different organisational structures and cultures.

This section should help you decide which organisational business model is best suited to you and figure out whether adhocracy would be a good option for your HR department to adopt.

Adhocracy

Adhocracy is a type of flat organisation because it eliminates some, if not all, layers of management and promotes increased involvement of employees in the decision-making process. Adhocracy is anti-hierarchy and pro-collaboration.

This model is most suited to companies where there is a high level of unpredictability and change because it is easily adapted and highly flexible.

Most activities are organised around opportunities or problems, rather than set day-to-day tasks or responsibilities. This can make for a less predictable routine as well as a less stable business infrastructure.

In adhocracy, action and intuition are privileged when it comes to decision-making, rather than the accumulation of knowledge, data or guidelines.

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Because of endorsing fewer guidelines and having less pressure from senior advisors, decisions are more likely to be made based on a process of trial and error or experimentation. This can be beneficial though, as it encourages all employees to get involved and try out their different ideas.

In this way, adhocracy business models encourage employees to stay motivated by giving them the privilege of having more creative freedom to explore new business avenues.

Similarly, you may have also come across the term clan culture. This refers to a family-like, or even tribal, culture in a corporate environment which encourages consensus and the alignment of goals and standards. It’s a collaborative business model, and potentially the least competitive of all corporate business models.

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is potentially the most popular business model. It is the most formal, positional model of organisational management. Positional, because those with more authority are always given the last word, and formal, because bureaucratic environments are highly regulated and follow strict, formalised procedures.

Unlike adhocracy and meritocracy, bureaucratic cultures co-ordinate their activities and responsibilities based on set rules and procedures, rather than situationally depending on the problem or opportunity that arises.

Decisions are made by seniors. It is a hierarchical, top-down business structure. With senior members of staff always having the final call, the biggest motivation is often pay and promotion.

Staff in bureaucratic companies are more often than not motivated by extrinsic rewards such as pay rises and the potential to move up the career ladder.

Meritocracy

While in bureaucracy the individual with the most authority is more likely to make the final decision, in a meritocracy, the power of the idea is more important than the senior officials’ decision. In short, individual knowledge is privileged over authority or position.

Decisions are therefore coordinated by mutual adjustment and the free flow of ideas up and down the employment ladder in meritocracy. Similar to adhocracy, there is more opportunity for employees to pitch their own ideas in meritocratic environments.

Meritocratic business models encourage employees by rewarding good ideas and professional mastery.

This kind of business model is often found in professional-service environments, universities, and science-based companies where specialist knowledge is a must when it comes to business development and advancement.

Little person vs Big personIs adhocracy the way forward?

Whilst adhocracy can be beneficial, it seems the best business models allow for elements of all three management strategies to be put into practice. In this sense, modern businesses may consider a hybrid business model.

A hybrid organisational model permits integrated and adaptive behaviour, encouraging inspirational and innovative contributions from all employees, while still maintaining a clear structure. 

While giving employees more freedom, business models should still promote a somewhat traditional, organisational framework, meaning some form of bureaucracy or meritocracy remains to be at play. It is useful to have clear leaders to help guide employees and represent the company as a whole.

As well as that, in larger corporate cultures, too much flexibility and freedom can lead to ambiguous and poorly defined working roles. If several groups are working across several departments, there needs to be some kind of structure for the necessary work to get done.

You don’t want your business falling victim to half-baked ideas and staff running around like headless chickens because their role feels purposeless.

That said, big businesses should consider focusing less on top-down strategies where only the big dogs do the talking and allow more freedom at the grassroots for employees to contribute their ideas and help the organisation to grow.

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