Ad hoc structures are most often found in conditions of turbulence and rapid change. Examples are advertising agencies, think-tank consulting firms, and the recording industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, Digital Equipment was a well-known pioneer of adhocracy: “In many ways [DEC] is a big company in small company clothes. It doesn’t believe much in hierarchy, rule books, dress codes, company cars, executive dining rooms, lofty titles, country club memberships, or most trappings of ‘corporacy.’ It doesn’t even have assigned parking spots. Only the top half-dozen executives have sizable offices. Everyone else at the company headquarters in Maynard, Mass., makes do with dinky doorless cubicles” (Machan, 1987, p. 154).
Digital’s structural arrangements helped it become the world leader in minicomputers. But the structural design became a problem when the market shifted toward personal computers, where aggressive new competitors like Compaq and Dell were dominant. “They flew so high and crashed so hard,” said one observer, because “at DEC, the internal mattered so much. They spent their lives playing with each other” (Johnson, 1996, p. F11). The strength of Digital’s adhocracy, a flowering of local creativity, became a liability when the company needed a timely organization-wide change in direction.
Helgeson’s Web of Inclusion
Mintzberg’s five-sector imagery adds a new dimension to the conventional line-staff organization chart but still retains much of the traditional portrait of structure as a clear-cut, top-down pyramid. Helgesen argues that the idea of hierarchy is primarily a male-driven depiction, quite different from structures created by female executives: “The women I studied had built profoundly integrated and organic organizations in which the focus was on nurturing good relationships; in which the niceties of hierarchical rank and distinction played little part; and in which lines of communication were multiplicitous, open, and diffuse. I noted that women tended to put themselves at the center of their organizations rather than at the top, thus emphasizing both accessibility and equality, and that they labored constantly to include people in their decision-making” (Helgesen, 1995, p. 10).
Helgesen coined the expression “web of inclusion” to portray an organic architectural form more circular than hierarchical. The web builds from the center out. Its architect works much like a spider, spinning new threads of connection and reinforcing existing strands. The web’s center and periphery are interconnected; action in one place ripples across the entire configuration, forming “an interconnected cosmic web in which the threads of all forces and events form an inseparable net of endless, mutually conditioned relations” (Fritjof Capra, quoted in Helgesen, 1995, p. 16). As a consequence, weaknesses in either the center or the periphery of the web undermine the strength of the natural network.
One of the most famous and important examples of web organization is “Linux, Inc.,” the loose organization of individuals and companies that has formed around Linus Torvalds, the creator of the open-source operating system Linux, which has become Microsoft Windows’s biggest competitor on servers and desktops. “Linux, Inc.” is anything but a traditional company: “There’s no headquarters, no CEO, and no annual report. And it’s not a single company. Rather, it’s a cooperative venture in which employees at about two dozen companies, along with thousands of individuals, work together to improve Linux software.… The Linux community, Torvalds says, is like a huge spider web, or better yet, multiple spider webs representing dozens of related open-source projects. His office is ‘near where those webs intersect’” (Hamm, 2005).
The freewheeling web form encounters increasing challenges as an organization gets bigger. When Meg Whitman become CEO of Internet phenomenon eBay in 1998, she joined an organization of fewer than fifty employees configured in an informal web surrounding founder Pierre Omidyar. One of her first steps was to set up appointments with her new staff. She was surprised to learn that scheduled meetings were a foreign concept in a company where no one kept a calendar. Omidyar had built a company with a strong culture and powerful sense of community but no explicit strategy, no regular meetings, no marketing department, and almost no other identifiable structural elements. Despite the company’s phenomenal growth and profitability, Whitman concluded that it was in danger of imploding without more structure and discipline. Omidyar agreed. He had worked hard to recruit Whitman because he believed she brought the big-company management experience that eBay needed to keep growing (Hill and Farkas, 2000).