adhocracy culture

Is an adhocracy culture undermining your business?

What is an adhocracy culture? HR consultant Kate Marchant explores adhocracy and how it may help or undermine particular types of businesses.

Is an adhocracy culture undermining your business? Before we can answer this question, let’s explore what an adhocracy culture actually is, how to spot the signs, and the pros and cons of having such a culture in your business.

What is an adhocracy culture?

An adhocracy culture can be described as one where decisions are made organically with the focus being on getting the job done – possibly one which is more reactive in nature, as this type of corporate culture is based on the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions and one which encourages creative thinking and bringing ideas to the table.

This type of culture is characterised by flexibility and empowerment, with an emphasis on individual initiative. In an adhocracy, corporate levels do exist but are much less strictly defined than in a more hierarchical organisation or culture – think of it as the direct opposite of a bureaucracy, which is characterised by having many rules in place and often a lot of inflexibility.

Spotting the signs of an adhocracy culture

Spotting the signs of an adhocracy culture

So, given that an adhocracy is one which is all about individuality and creativity, how do we spot the signs of such a culture? Here are three questions to ask:

1. How are decisions made?

An adhocracy favours intuitive decision making and decisions are often made at any level – in direct contrast to other cultures that may default decision making ‘up the chain’ i.e. to a more senior colleague (this is often seen in a bureaucracy). In an adhocracy, the emphasis is more about experimenting; give it a go, get feedback, adjust, and review.

2. How is governance applied?

In an adhocracy, the application of any governance can be very different to other cultures in that it is often created very quickly and then closed down very quickly depending on the nature of the specific circumstances. In other cultures, governance is very much process driven with expectations around compliance high and long-standing.

3. How quickly do things change?

In adhocracy, things are often highly fluid and dynamic, with change being a way of life – to the extent it has high levels of unpredictability. In other cultures, change happens at a much slower pace and often has to go through a rigorous approval process before being enacted.

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When is an adhocracy model appropriate?

In order to get to the bottom of this question, it is important to examine the conditions under which the model is appropriate, how activities are co-ordinated, and how people are motivated.

  • Conditions: Adhocracy suits working environments that are unpredictable in nature or where there are high levels of technological progress. It’s not so suitable for environments that are stable or subject to a high level of governance and compliance.
  • Activities: The focus here is all about getting around a problem and/or seizing an opportunity and not about following rules and procedures.
  • Decisions: Often made by trial and error as opposed to through the hierarchy.
  • Motivation: In an adhocracy, motivation is achieved by giving people goals which stretch them and they gain recognition for achieving them. In other cultures, people are often motivated by extrinsic rewards such as pay – often seen in a bureaucracy.

The pros and cons of adhocracy culture

The pros and cons of adhocracy culture

So, given all the above points what are the pros and cons of an adhocracy?

Pros

  • Creativity – An adhocracy is a great enabler of creativity, as everyone is able to express opinions freely and experiment with different ideas.
  • Collaboration – As the culture is fairly informal, there is more emphasis on social interaction and collaboration.
  • Decision making – Decision making is usually quicker in an adhocracy, allowing people to act on instinct rather than extended analysis and debate.
  • Flexibility – An adhocracy often has high levels of flexibility, which enables them to adapt quickly to change and/or even change themselves dependant on the situation.

Cons

  • Chaotic – Because of its flexibility and adaptability, critics of adhocracy declare the culture to be too reactive and chaotic, with a lack of procedures often resulting in confusion and important things being missed.
  • Organisation type – An adhocracy can only really be suited to those organisations with a tendency to thrive without process and procedure. It is not suited to an organisation that has a heavy reliance upon, for example, health and safety, manufacturing, and engineering.
  • People issues – Due to the lack of formal hierarchy, it may prove difficult to resolve any personality clashes, friction, or grievances.
  • Culture – This is important for an adhocracy to thrive. If a company has a toxic or blame-type culture then an adhocracy would not work, as individuals may not feel psychologically safe enough to put forward creative ideas or suggestions in the event they fail and are blamed for that failure.

And before we go back to the very first question as to whether an adhocracy culture is undermining your business, let’s look at some famous real-life examples of this culture:

1. Amazon – puts innovation and experimentation at the heart of its business and embraces the fact that many experiments will not be successful.

2. Wikipedia – has no hierarchy and is run by the Wikipedia Foundation, which comprises of only a few full-time staff members.

3. Google – embraces the external risk-taking nature of an adhocracy culture, running very much on creative energy and being bold.

It is probably fair to say, when looking at the famous examples of adhocracy cultures, that such a culture can contribute towards notoriety, high profit margins, and a real sense of being ‘ground-breaking’. But it does not suit all environments and this is where trying to force through such a culture may actually undermine the business – especially if business leaders fail to recognise the type of business or environment this type of culture is best suited to.

Due to the experimental, creative, and reactive nature of an adhocracy, if your business is reliant upon compliance, governance, health and safety and/or is heavily process driven, then it is likely any leaning towards this type of culture or style may do harm to your business – unless there are exact rules and guidelines around creativity, which kind of detracts from the ‘ad-hoc’ nature of an adhocracy!

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Picture of Kate Marchant

Written by Kate Marchant

Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.

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