Random Thoughts on Life and Work

May 8, 2007

The Org Chart Fallacy

Filed under: Management,Non-Profit,Strategy — Darren Mullenix @ 8:30 am

I have been wrestling lately with issues related to organizational charts and have come to realize how much I dislike them.  As a concept, an org chart is just so limited in what it can show for a department or for an organization. 

I think many of us are use to the traditional org chart which shows boxes and lines meant to demonstrate the heirarchical nature of our department or organization.  We place names and titles in the boxes in an attempt to show the relationships between people.  The lines are meant to show reporting relationships and/or interactions between people.  However, if we are honest about how work gets done, we would probably find that information flows in very strange and unique ways between people.  And most of the time there is no way to illustrate the relationships with a chart.

I recently discovered the negative power of an org chart.  As long time readers will note, we have been dealing with a reorganization process that is merging two related departments into a single entity.  In doing so, some people have been moved around into new positions.  Others have remained in their existing roles but may have new reporting relationships.  The whole process has really illustrated the need for “cross-channel” communications.  And it is working.  Kind of.

But there has also been a backlash from some very unexpected quarters.  Words are powerful.  And in spite of repeated cautions to not get attached to the titles that were placed in boxes to illustrate the positions, people did.  And even though their roles did not change and their pay did not change, the fact that a different word was used to describe their position was something that has been difficult to get past.

The problem is the organizational chart.  For a person that is used to a heirarchical structure, breaking down walls and lines of communication can be pretty scary.  However, in today’s fast paced service world, we can no longer be focused on the chart.  We must be focused outward, inward, and all around us. 

Our model is going to be a little different.  While we are forced to supply the diagram of the command and control structure that is required (afterall, someone has to conduct the performance review) we are dismantling the typical structure of the development department.  For better or worse, we are moving towards a chart that is far more bubble than structure.

If you have ever watched soap bubbles in the sink, you might get a picture of what we are attempting to do.  Working teams form, then break, then reform in different places with differen functions.  It is fun to watch and provides a great deal of cross-training and cross-communication.  And while the whole process brings with it a lot of questions (usually having to do with control issues) there has been an increase in free-flowing information.  We are still finding our way through the process but I think progress is being made. 

One of the big advantages to this process is that it allows us to evaluate new donor service initiatives for a period and then move on to something else.  All while maintaining the existing programs that are core to our existence.  By throwing out the traditional org chart, we are able to be far more flexible.  Unfortunately, there are many who continue to be stuck in an org chart paradigm that makes the process more painful than it needs to be.   Hopefully, we can get past it and continue to move forward.


1 Comment »

  1. I think this is a fabulous idea. I am going to try it out in the organisation I work for.

    Comment by Rosalie — October 29, 2009 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

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