The single largest unused resource in your organization

Sep 22, 2009

The org chart is an unloved document. No-one believes it, it’s unlikely to be up to date, and unless a merger or acquisition is in the air, it rarely sees the light of day.

So read this slowly: Your org chart is the single largest unused resource in your organization.If you watched me walk past an Aston Martin Vantage every day and instead jump into a beaten-up 7-year old Camry, you’d think I was either crazy or … well, you’d probably just think I was crazy.

And yet business owners and leaders do the organizational equivalent of exactly that, every day, all day.

Here’s the deal: To be a success in business, the one and only thing you need to do is to make good decisions – frequently and consistently. Making good decisions frequently and consistently is tiring, stressful and hard to maintain. Wouldn’t it be great if you had…let’s say… a machine for effective decision-making…?

Well, as a business leader, turns out you do: it’s called your org chart, and it’s sitting there waiting for you in the garage drawer, just where you left it yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. All that you need to do is dust it off, turn the ignition, and use it. Simple.

There are only two things you need to do to turn your org chart into an effective machine for decision-making:

1. Redesign it.
This sounds time-consuming and unnecessary but is in fact both essential and (relatively) simple. Simply take a copy of your existing org chart and a colored crayon or marker. Using the crayon, draw lines between people who communicate frequently (if you don’t know who communicates with who in your organization you have a deeper problem, but for now, go find out). The more two people communicate, the thicker the line you should draw.

Where the lines you have drawn match the lines on the existing org chart, all is well, Where they don’t, your org chart isn’t working as an effective machine for decision-making. You need to either (a) change the org chart to reflect the existing reality, (b) train one or more people who aren’t communicating but should, to do so, or (c) fire or relocate someone because they’re not communicating effectively in their current position. Your call.

2. Add a third dimension (optional if you have less than 50 employees).
Org charts are two-dimensional at best – they only show vertical and lateral communications. If you have an organization with more than 50 employees, it is certain that your 2-D org chart does not reflect a lot of the formal and informal cross-functional communications (extending across functional silos, and up and down through levels of seniority) that actually make the decisions about many of the more complicated issues you face.

Have someone take time to record this third dimension of decision-making as an integral part of the org chart. You can show the cross-functional teams as an appendix or as a ‘call-out’ on the side of the page – just so long as you show them: they’re just as important and as inherent to effective decision-making (if not more so) than the 2-D command and control boxes in the traditional org chart. Don’t get hung up on chasing down every small cross-functional interaction – just get the big obvious ones for now and add more later. (A company wiki is great for this).

Your org chart is now an effective machine for decision-making. Six or nine months from now, pull out the org chart (including cross-functional teams), grab your colored marker and do a reality check. Don’t touch that Camry.