Social Adhocracies

In many ways the 20th century was the century of the bureaucrat, and it is therefore unsurprising that it is still the most familiar organisational model to most people today. As defined by Weber in 1947, bureaucratic structures are hierarchical, coordinated by rules, functionally departmentalized, and impersonal. Bureaucracies are like factory workshops that excel at systemizing large quantities of routine work again, and again and again. In the fast moving times of the 21st century however, where the terrain changes before anyone really had time to properly adapt to the last environment, a different model is frequently needed. This is because the adaptive capacities of any organisation are not in its bureaucratic process, but within the innovative teams of creative and strategically minded individuals.

For small-scale start up social ventures in particular, an adhocracy is definitely the model of choice. Solutions, structures, strategies and even services can only be found with the kind of speed and flexibility required if they are ad-hoc innovations that truly respond to the changing needs of the constantly shifting world around them.

A defining difference between the factory workers of a bureaucracy and the team members of an adhocracy is that the former do what they are told and the latter figure out what needs to be done. This means an entirely different approach to management as the team being managed are more often knowledge workers, generalists or managers themselves, and attracted to the innovation and fast pace of social entrepreneurship. The flip side to this is that these skills need to be actively promoted, encouraged and recruited from the outset so that they are already present within the team when they are needed most.

A solid but streamlined bureaucratic core is indispensible however and forms the skeleton upon which a living and dynamic adhocracy births itself into the world. The trick it would seem, is in striking that magic balance: too weak a bureaucratic frame and the energy dissipates as it drowns underneath day to day administrative realities, too little space for fast paced adaption and innovation and the endeavour ossifies.