An organizational design that relies on individual initiative and an adaptive mindset to achieve goals.
Devoid of fixed rules and hierarchy, adhocracy is often appreciated for greater freedom within an organization. This contrasts with bureaucracy and other traditional organizational styles that are more structured, stringent, and restrictive.
The flexibility of adhocracy makes it compatible with fast-evolving industries, where quick action is often crucial in gaining a competitive advantage. It is particularly effective for smaller organizations where it is easier to supervise tasks. On the other hand, the concept rarely works for large organizations where things can easily turn chaotic. In this case, adhocracy can lead to major issues such as work duplication or unaccomplished tasks. This is due to poor team coordination or a lack of understanding of individual roles.
While adhocracy is more complex than bureaucracy, it is considered superior. It works in diverse environments, especially where innovation and problem-solving skills are crucial. Nonetheless, it is not without disadvantages, including the tendency for extremism. This led to the birth of a hybrid structure now known as bureau-adhocracy.
Real-World Example of Adhocracy
One common example of adhocracy in the private sector is office technology inventor Xerox Corporation. Although it began as a typical company composed of several divisions or departments, Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) operated as an adhocracy with a flat organizational structure. There were zero to few levels of management linking workers and leadership.
Adhocracy exists in government, such as in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When the world started exploring space, NASA fulfilled its mandate to address failures and turf tension within the American military. Its first mission was to safely put people on the moon within the next ten years with full autonomy.
Another example of an adhocracy in government was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 1958, the U.S. Congress created DARPA in the Pentagon in response to USSR’s Sputnik, the world’s first-ever satellite launched a year earlier. The mandate of the adhocracy was to detect ground-breaking technologies that could pose threats to national security. One of DARPA’s creations was the ARPANET from which the Internet evolved.
History of Adhocracy
Compared to other organizational structures, adhocracy is relatively recent in origin. In the late 1960s, leadership studies pioneer Warren Bennis coined the term as he predicted the rise of agile project teams having barely any structure. He talked about his prediction in his 1968 book, “The Temporary Society,” which inspired another book, “Future Shock,” by American futurist Alvin Toffler in 1970.
Toffler’s bestselling work talked about flat organizational structures he called “kinetic.” Kinetic project teams grouped and regrouped rapidly in a world driven by fast-changing technologies. In the book, Toffler highlights society’s intolerance of traditionally arduous, multilayer authority structures.
In 1979, Canadian author Henry Mintzberg expounded on adhocracy as a type of organizational structure. Mintzberg emphasized the important role that adhocracy plays as an addition to more conventional organizational structures, such as professional bureaucracy; divisional, which is used in large corporations; and matrix, which assigns workers across different divisions, departments, or superiors using a matrix.