What Does the Leader See?

Organizational Charts (referred to as Org Charts) are typically used to show people the intended power structure of the organization. What I find distressing is that most leaders of organizations very often see Org Charts as nothing more than a responsibility structure. They don’t look beyond to the potential and power of the chart as a management and leadership tool that can actually support the achievement of strategic objectives. There’s a fundamental principle in Organizational Development and it’s this: function follows form. In short, the way you build it is the way it will function. The real potential in the organization doesn’t follow the lines of the org chart. It follows the lines of communication. Org Charts are typically pyramidal in shape. They show the person in charge at the top. Below are clustered subordinates, usually in progressively smaller boxes. Individuals shown on the same horizontal level in the chart are considered to be peers. So why do these charts sometimes only serve to confuse more than clarify what the structure really is? It’s not intentional, but it reflects the confusion of the people involved. If those in the Org Chart (especially the Leader) are unsure of individual or group functional relationships (which is often the case), or if those functions and relationships frequently change (which is an absolute certainty), it’s impossible to have an accurate configuartion. As reflected in the picture above, the most common place to find confusing Org Charts is in the Federal Government. While the span of control varies, you can see visually that this is not an organization that functions at the highest level. If you were to chart the communications flow within this organization (which you can’t), and the amount of time subordinates spent with the directors (which I’m sure they don’t track or have any idea), I’d bet that almost all of the direct reports would probably need to be reclassified as subordinates of other functions. As can be seen, it’s not clear to the people in the chart, or the leaders in the chart, who interacts with who or who’s responsible for what. Can you imagine how many people are hiding out in this chart (not being held accountable) because it’s so large and convoluted? If you’re going to have an Org Chart, then construct one that reflects where you want the organization to go, not what it looks like now. If you want a flat, horizontal, less-bureaucratic organization, then construct a chart that reflects that vision. Don’t feel obligated to stick to horizontal groupings and vertical lines. If people will more clearly understand their roles by doing so, use circles, inverted triangles, or whatever else you want to use as long as it supports your vision. However, don’t forget that if you construct your chart in a certain way, then the organization has to look and function that way. The question Leaders of organizations need to ask is ‘What do I choose to see when I look at my Org Chart?’ Do they see the emotions, fear and grit of the people caught up in a dysfunctional structure? Do they see the strategy and high-level analysis needed to address those dysfunctions? Do they see that some people are willingly blind to the dysfunction because they’re hiding out? Can they connect the dots and see not only the dysfunction, but the ripple effect it has on the entire organization, obstructing objectives and, therefore, the organization’s core purpose and vision? The real question every Leader should ask is ‘Do I see what my people see when I look at my organization?’