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People entering the workforce today want to do things differently, and it’s critical that as multi-generational employers we figure out how to support each one quickly. The new generations want more autonomy, and the reality is that there are entrepreneurs at all levels of companies of all sizes. Still, traditional bureaucracies hold them back until they reach a position of influence.
When structuring an organization, whether it’s incorporating another company or starting a new company and starting to structure from scratch, you have more options than the traditional top-down structure. In our experience, there are better forms of organization that bring out the full potential of each individual and drive business growth. But fair warning: this model is more than just moving the seats: it’s a total redesign of the bus.
Related: How an Adhocracy Spurs Business Growth
Adhocracy as we see it
Unlike a traditional bureaucratic business model, adhocracy is a flexible and adaptable organizational structure where groups are formed when needed for a particular purpose. Adhocracy problem-solving ad hoc work groups create a business environment more conducive to innovation.
In our “adhocracy”, non-hierarchical business units function independently from their client base, but at the end of the day they are still part of our organization. Within each business unit, there are specific leadership roles: Our “executive teams”: an operational person, a finance person, a technical person, and a business development person. Not unlike a C-suite, each brings her experience to being part of a collaborative leadership team to support a business unit. And we mean support: This is not an old-school top-down structure.
Our business units, named after constellations, are supported by a platform: “Hubble”, the brain of the ecosystem. If you wanted to bring a technical team to a business unit team, we could use Hubble to identify the right people, their location, time zone, and rates. We can also use it to seek out particular expertise for a new project or to move someone onto a team that needs it.
Related: 5 Tips to Keep in Mind When Designing (or Redesigning) Your Organizational Structure
Foster agency and entrepreneurship.
The adhocracy model emphasizes leadership, encouraging it from more people at different levels throughout the company. The ability to disarm and reassemble provides organizational fluidity. Teams can identify problems to solve and act quickly, achieving more and greater efficiency.
Each business unit has the autonomy to design what it is leading and how it wants to execute it. They control its growth to adapt it to the needs of the project, which benefits the further growth of the company. They see how their efforts can have a positive impact on the company, creating a greater sense of ownership, camaraderie, and ultimately less turnover. It also encourages healthy competition: Who will get bigger or better to reach our goals? When more people feel empowered to try to make a difference, more people will rise to the occasion and try.
Related: Setting the Structure for Organizational Growth
take our advice
This model allows everyone to step forward, be leaders and drive the growth of their unit and company. People can broaden their experience within a company, making them more likely to stay rather than seek other opportunities elsewhere. The products we build for our customers make them better and us better. We do not hold anyone.
But this is not a model for an organization that seeks to sit still; you must have the following recipe for it to work.
1) Have an appetite for radical change
To foster the company-wide mindset shift required to bring this model to success, it takes a strong group of believers at the C-suite level to engage in a radical change from a typical organizational structure. Teams can’t do it alone. In our company, we have gone from being an organization that passes directives to allowing individual business units to operate in the service of their customers. We even encourage our clients to make this change when they restructure because we see how it could benefit them, but realize it requires radical change.
2) Find the right people and rethink their roles.
From within the organization, find back office people capable of this mindset shift and position them to enable these teams. Our executive teams make things happen at our company, so the rest of us support what they need. My role in HR changed to being more proactive and engaged with these leadership teams as strategic growth partners. Look out for people with the natural ability to think like a leader, solve complex problems, and look for opportunities to learn.
3) Stay flexible.
Changes often happen: mergers, mergers, changes, portfolio expansion and exploration of new industries. Teams can grow to the size they need to take on any project. We have had divided business units. We have had united business units. We’ve had business units that have given birth to baby business units. We accept fluidity: if it makes sense to the executive team, we’re all for it.
4) Beware of the threat of silos
These business units can grow very large at any given point, making it difficult to prevent silos. An isolated company cuts off the smooth cross-communication needed to support a healthy adhocracy model, so we must be careful not to let them form. If you follow Dunbar’s theory, then 300 is a critical number. If you go bigger, getting more silos becomes inevitable. Consider these numbers to set a limit on the size of individual groups, but leave them the flexibility to form alliances and grow.
At my company, we devour new books on big business theory, absorb them, and use what seems most likely to work for us. It keeps us evolving all the time. If there is a better and more proven way of structuring, we would critically examine it and see if it’s worth it. In most cases, the change will happen independently, so we can also anticipate it. For now, this model puts us in the best position to do just that.
Related: To Break Down Silos, Incorporate Cross-Communication