You've probably heard the term, "ad hoc," used around the office: you've been to an ad hoc meeting, sat on an ad hoc committee and you deal with crises on an ad hoc basis all the time. Have you ever really considered what the term means, though?
It's a Latin thing
"Ad hoc" is a Latin phrase used commonly in English. Ad means toward, hoc means this, and the phrase translates as, "for this purpose." In context, that means for a single purpose and describes a plan or response to a situation not designed to be generally applicable or transferrable to other situations. Thus, ad hoc is unplanned, impromptu, specifically geared to the given situation and by nature short-term. Once the situation is resolved, the ad hoc committee disbands, the ad hoc network dissolves and the status quo is restored.
It's an ad hoc thing
The term "ad hoc" crops up in business a lot to describe a flexible approach to challenges. From the ad hoc meeting called to discuss an unforeseen takeover challenge, to the committee given the specific task of setting up a social media policy, in business terms ad hoc means dealing with problems on a case-by-case basis.
There are other specific uses of the term "ad hoc," though, that are worth noting. In science, an ad hoc hypothesis is an amendment to an original theory in light of new knowledge to prevent it from being discredited. In computer science, an ad hoc query is one posed by the user to get a specific subset of data from a database, as opposed to a preprogrammed query designed by programmers. An ad hoc military unit is one pulled together from disparate units, often during maneuvers, in response to an unstable or unpredicted situation. In organizational terms an ad hoc network is one that comes together organically with little or no planning to achieve a specific goal.
It's an adhocracy
An adhocracy is an institution or organization, which although intended to endure for the long term, deliberately adopts flexible and short-term policies and practices in order to remain responsive to a fast-paced environment. It is the opposite of a bureaucracy, where rules and roles are clearly defined and slow to change. An adhocracy, as defined by Alvin Toffler, futurist writer of the 1960s and 1970s, is a product of the information age, and when well thought out excels at problem solving and innovation.
However, in order to survive and thrive, an adhocracy needs first-rate support systems and automated technology. In an adhocracy roles may not be clearly defined or related to formal qualifications, there may not be many formal rules or a strict dress code, and decentralization is common, all of which makes sense when the focus of the organization is to respond to new situations quickly. However, without the information technology, automated systems and supporting personnel systems, an adhocracy can quickly descend into chaos with no clear leadership and boundaries.