Should we kill the OrgChart?

All HR professionals know that one of the biggest struggles in Organisation Design is to get managers to move away from simply reasoning in terms of “Organizational Charts”. I guess you all have faced the common scenario in which a manager involves you in the need of an organisational change, and starts the discussion… with an already drafted Organisation Chart.

What should be the last step in an articulated process, becomes instead an assumption, which too often ends being a self-fulfilling prophecy, where change is often just a way to achieve other goals.

Probably this is one of the main reason why some authors have already started wondering if we should definitely kill the OrgChart, also as a tool to simply guarantee compliance, or at least just write it in pencil.

In a very interesting post about the Five Myths of Organisational Design, Naomi Stanford goes to the origin of the word myth to explain the one she has selected first: Design is about the organisation chart. The myth arises from thinking that the formal elements that can be expressed on a chart are the organisation. Why and how this myth persists could be to do with attitudes and beliefs around formal relationships.

A lot is probably due to the fact that OrgCharts easily interpret the aspiration of vertical growth in an organisation. Despite all efforts, too many people still look at this element, especially from a. psychological point of view. And also try to represent the complexity of career models (how many times did we watch a box in the org chart being placed a few millimetres below an other, just to underline different seniority?)

For decades, managers imagined that corporate ladders were motivating and that dreams of climbing them would drive superior performance’

Margaret Heffernan, Hierarchies lie at the root of corporate decay

For sure OrgCharts represent a good way to visualize context. However, they fail at representing the complexity of today’s organization in many ways. Has anyone succeeded in really making a matrix organisation work with an Organisation Chart representation? What about key relationships at work? Organizational Network Analysis very often describes much better the power and collaboration lines in an organisation, than an org chart. And as we experiment with new organisational structures, the OrgChart start losing a lot of its appeal.

Should we kill the OrgChart? 1
Fig. 1 : Social Network Analysis provides alternative way of representation.

No one of the alternative ways to display org relationships has really appealed to me, so I don’t think we’re going to say goodbye to it in the short term. However we need for sure to work with managers and leaders to ensure that organisational change does not happen by simply moving boxes on a chart, and instead, look at all the elements that constitute an organisation, and that is often left out (thinks governance just as an example).

What’s you point of view on Organisation Charts? Should they still exist?

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