Adhocracy culture: pros and cons

7 min read  |   12 March, 2019   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

Four people holding poles, skiing off-piste down a wavy path on the side of a snowy mountain.

Where does your company fit within the 4 pillars of organisational culture? If you've already discovered that flexible clan, marketing and strategic hierarchy aren't quite on the money, why not delve into the quick-off-the-mark, innovative and improvised world of adhoc company culture?

Originating from Latin, adhoc literally translates as 'to this'. Encouraging initiative, this term denotes a fast-paced and ever-changing set up, where you are both adaptive to issues and reactive with solutions. Seeing an upsurge in its usage and popularity post WWII, this old-age term began to resonate deeper with the British public from the 1950s and has swiftly jumped from The Competing Values Framework into the modern day corporate world.

What is adhocracy culture?

  • Adaptive mindset

  • Flexible working conditions

  • On-trend innovation

  • Dynamic production

How does this translate into the workplace?

Striping it back to the bare skin and bones, adhocracy culture describes an organisation that runs by the seat of its pants. Reactive and welcoming to change, leaders encourage teams to turn projects and goals on their head when necessary and at lightning speed. Whereas traditional hierarchical companies build walls and systems for risk defense, adhocracy laughs in the face of routine and stability. 

The adrenaline junkie of the business culture world, these companies speed through developments and change with the seasons. Fully adaptive and focused primarily on future business trends (known as futurism if you didn't get the memo); the rough-and-ready mentality of adhoc promotes dynamic product development and an urgency to keep moving with technology and growth. 

Adaptive mindset

Picture this. You're on top of a mountain and about to head down a new piste of fortuitous fresh powder and gleaming opportunity. You've studied the map and scoped out the potential pitfalls during the gondola ascent. You and your group have a rough idea of what is ahead, but won't know the true conditions of the terrain until you've lived it. 

As you stand on the edge, you look to your team and signal to start with a gentle, yet assertive nod of the head. One, two, three. Go.

Four people holding poles, skiing off-piste down a wavy path on the side of a snowy mountain.

Adaptive pros:

The stakes are high and the rewards mountainous. You're in a versatile environment, so strategy and the way you move is imperative. Consider each variable; it's time to weigh the risks up against the rewards and adapt to any hidden drops.

Most importantly, when you fall (because it will happen), you need to be ready to collect your equipment, brush yourself off and get back up.

'Keep moving' is this culture's motto and this environment is suited to those who think big then act larger. It's that leap of faith and caution-to-the-wind mentality, which makes ad-hoc culture so engaging.

If you'd played it safe, you wouldn't be enjoying the thrill of untouched routes or indeed the benefits that stem from exclusivity. And, the more you experience, the more you learn. After all, there's truth in the fact that power is applied knowledge.

Adaptive cons:

Apprentices and newbies aren't best placed here. That's why one of the pitfalls of adhoc culture includes recruitment. Leaders look to gather a team of individuals who not only enjoy living life on the edge, but are also experienced within their particular field. Let's face it, the enjoyment from your day on the mountain will - to some extent - be determined by the people in your team/ group.

Remember, when you're committed to an all-encompassing, fast-paced environment, there's little time to stop and check the technique. You need confidence in your team, yourself and the run that you've decided to take. 

There's no walk-out plan, so you have no other option than to drop-in and run the journey. Hopefully you'll float and not sink. 

Flexible working conditions

We now live in a millennial working world and adhocracy culture supports this. So for those who've realised that work 1) doesn't have to fit into the 9 till 5, 2) isn't limited to the desk in a busy office full of distractions and 3) ideas can change; adhoc might be the one to tickle your fancy. 

adhoc culture work llfe balance

Flexible pros:

This culture gets its kicks from adversity and change, so naturally lends itself to flexible, remote and dynamic working patterns. This is great for those who put precedence on living a life with activities and responsibilities outside of work. (Plenty of time to shoot down that mountain then.)

Flexible cons:

What's the opposite of flexibility? Stability. Needless to say, our hierarchical, routine-dependent employees won't gel so well with ad-hoc. There's a fine-line between flexibility and insecurity and for those that invest big, the risks are scary. The higher you elevate, the further the drop. And, unfortunately, the harder and more damaging the tumble.

Think back to our skiing scenario; for those less-experienced adventurers, it's safer to start small and leave the tougher off-piste terrain and black mogul fields to the experts.  

What's trending?

Adhoc companies keep up to date with current business trends. Whether that's technical, retail, hospitality, agricultural or even architectural trends, adhoc managers consistently shake things up to position themselves at the top of their industry game. 

adhoc culture juggling

Staying on trend - the pros:

Keeping on trend and at the forefront of your industry is imperative to adhoc workplace culture. The focus is firmly on the future and the part that your employees can play in building yours. This is great news for the creatives out there.

Adhoc cultures support individuals who are apt at keeping all plates spinning and twelve eyes on the prize. Adaptive mindsets fuse with out-of-the-box thinking to create projects and products we don't even know we need yet. There's an element of fortune telling in this, so it's great for those who have more extroverted tendencies or confidence in their specific field. 

Staying on trend - the cons:

Specific and dependable recruitment is paramount. As an adhoc leader, you need complete confidence in your team, their talents and their ability to adapt. This can make things harder for larger businesses who've neglected establishing their staff's strengths and weaknesses. 

If one of your twelve eyes does wander from the trending prize and those plates slip, you're at risk of one hell of a landslide.

Dynamic production

"Without contraries there can be no progression." William Blake was on to something there. With adhoc's focus primarily on the next big win, collaboration is imperative. 


Dynamic production pros:

One obvious pro from adhocracy culture is the creation of innovative products. Leaders and employees evaluate working conditions, briefs and products then improve, enhance and adjust.

What do we need? What do we want? How can we do better? How do we go from good to great? Regular question-and-answer sessions help adhocracy cultures develop their team attributes and plot out their strategies for successful business ventures.

If we didn't have adhoc cultures that create success by working out the grain and then going against it to make something unique and useful, we wouldn't have: aerospace, internet, mobile phones, applications, the cloud and even Breathe

Dynamic production cons:

Difficult collaboration spurred on by individualism and personality clashes. When the majority of your team is made up of creative experts in their field, sparks will fly.

To succeed and avoid the devastation that stems from a particularly aggressive spark, you'll need a tenacious management team, built from leaders who earn respect. 

Adhoc business culture prose

Adhoc cultures aren't suited for every workplace, but they do have their place. 

New is always risky. And let's face it, if it wasn't, it would've been covered by someone else before. So, if you're looking to build your company culture around the adhocracy framework, just make sure you've collected a group of individuals who have the confidence to do better, work smarter and the resilience to start again if needs be. 

Weigh up the pros, cons and all the variables in between. Still believe it's worth it? Great.

One, two, three. Go. Good luck; you've got this. 


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter (2023) & English Language & Literature graduate (BA Hons), Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With 3 years' content marketing experience, Aimée has a passion for writing - and providing SME HR teams with solutions to their problems. She enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: from employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

Back to listing

Sign up to get the latest HR and people management insights straight to your inbox