Adhocracy and Bureaucracy

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2001/14

Bureaucracy vs. Adhocracy: a case of overdramatisation?
Fabienne AUTIER Professeur Unité Pédagogique et de Recherche Hommes et Stratégies Equipe Management des Ressources Humaines E.M.LYON Juillet 2001 Communication effectuée au 17ième Colloque EGOS “The Odyssey of Organizing”, thème “European Group for Organizational Studies”, 5-7 Juillet 2001, Lyon, France

Bureaucracy vs. Adhocracy: a case of overdramatisation?

Abstract : It has been argued that bureaucratic management systems were definitely non effective if organizations were to innovate. As an alternative it has been argued that only non-bureaucratic type of management systems i.e “organic” or “adhocratic” management systems were conducive to innovation. In this article, a case study of a highly innovative firm suggests that the alternative is not as straightforward as it may seem. The study investigates a conceptual and practical asymmetry between the two ideal-types. The study’s findings identify a major blind spot of the supposedly non-bureaucratic management systems : namely, regulation. This leads us to argue that Adhocratic management systems are not a self-standing alternative to Bureaucratic management systems, but rather a variation of the latter. Such a variation tends to generate a “paradoxical management system”. Key words : Innovation, Bureaucracy, Adhocracy

Résumé : Les systèmes de management bureaucratiques sont généralement considérés comme des freins à l’innovation dans les organisations productives. On défend plus volontiers que des systèmes de management « organiques » ou « adhocratiques » permettent à l’innovation d’advenir. Cet article rapporte les résultats d’une analyse de cas longitudinale d’une firme hautement innovante qui suggère que l’alternative conceptuelle (bureaucratie vs. adhocratie) n’est pas si claire, ni pertinente. Le système de management analysé, de type adhocratique, souffre de nombreuses limites, et notamment d’un déficit majeur de régulation. Le constat de telles limites nous conduit à poser que les systèmes adhocratiques ne sont pas la panacée tant vantée en matière de gestion de l’innovation, et que conceptuellement, ils représentent non pas une alternative mais une variation par rapport aux systèmes bureaucratiques. Mots-clés : Bureaucratie, Adhocratie, Innovation

INTRODUCTION One claim has been pervasive over the past decades in the management field : bureaucratic management systems, alternatively named “bureaucratic” (Bennis, 1966 ; Mintzberg, 1981), “monocratic” (Thompson, 1969), or “mechanistic” (Burns & Stalker, 1961) management systems are damaging for the production of innovations within established companies. As they rely on individuals' specialization around tasks, fixed operative rules, tasks focused control, and hierarchical authority, they are considered to impede organizational members to come up with new propositions and develop it. The general wisdom thus considers that if bureaucratic management systems are appropriate for routine type of activities, they are definitely not for innovation (Burns & Stalker, 1961 ; Mintzberg, 1981 ; Galbraith, 1982 ; Perrow, 1986 ; Souder, 1987) . What type of management system is then suitable in order for an established firm to actually come up with new offerings? An alternative has been symmetrically developed, often by the same authors, dramatizing one hand of the continuum, in order to promote the other one. This alternative consists in advocating that “non bureaucratic” systems are required. Alternatively named “organic” (Burns and Stalker, 1961) or “adhocratic” (Mintzberg, 1981), such management systems are expected to best allow innovations to be produced within established organizations. As indicated by its etymological origin (“Ad hoc”), adhocratic management systems are under-specified, low formalized ones. Individual’s roles are broad and flexible. This type of management system stands in sharp contrast with the bureaucratic :...
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