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Why the corporate org chart must die

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It’s only been 8 months since I’ve been away from the corporate scene, and there are a few things I miss. Most of it stems from one area though: The camaraderie of a team. When you’re on your own, you spend a lot of time alone during the day. Sure, you’re on calls with clients and partners. And you meet up with people throughout the week. But it’s that connectedness and colleagiality with teammates that I really miss.

That said, there is one thing I believe we need to rethink on the corporate side: Our reliance and devotion to org charts.

Yes, I know we need them. I’m not here to condemn them completely. So before you break out your pitchforks, here me out. I’m just saying we need to ease up on our reliance on titles and hierarchy. Here’s why:

* Hierarchy breeds siloed thinking. All that talk about breaking down the silos we’ve heard online for the last number of years? It all starts with org charts. I know org charts can’t take all the blame, but it definitely sets the tone. What if your organization was much flatter and teams shared resources and talent? Wouldn’t that breed collaboration and promote sharing across disciplines? Wouldn’t that lead to more productive and happy employees?

* Titles limit creative thinking. For better or worse, your title really defines who you are on the corporate side. Work in PR? You’re the guy who handles the media. Internal communications gal? You work with the intranet. You get the idea. It becomes a part of who we are. The only problem with that is we often get too focused on the job at hand and don’t stop to look at the big picture. Chances are many of your teammates have great ideas that could help the marketing folks. But, do they ask? Do they even want them? Sometimes the answer is no. Don’t let a title define who you are and how you think.

* Org charts are a huge time waster. If you’ve ever worked in an office, how much time did you spend talking and gossiping about the org chart? Complaining about your boss. Or, talking about how you should have your boss’ job (guilty, right here). Or, bemoaning the fact that you report to one person when you should be reporting to another. All of this is a tremendous drain not only on staff time–but employee morale. If you’re senior management, this should concern you. The number of hours corporate America loses to people thinking about and talking about org charts has to be off the charts. Isn’t it time to put an end to it?

* Org charts don’t foster collaboration. Hierarchy, while great in some situations, is not the friend of innovation and collaboration. Too many people have to sign off on ideas. Too many cooks are in the kitchen on brainstorming sessions. Too much burearcracy. Flatter organizations can move at a faster clip. Less hierarchy means more speed to market. And more speed to market means you can better leverage your competitive advantage. It means you can capitalize on market conditions more quickly. And, it means you can make changes to processes and products and services on the fly. All of which is better for business.

So, what do I suggest? I’m a realist–I know org charts aren’t going away. But, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a larger company (maybe even a Fortune 500 organization) just throw their org chart out the window and run with a relatively flat organization? Just see what happens. How would employees react? What’s the worst that could happen? Would there really be that much chaos?

And really, despite the title of this post, I’m not saying org charts should go away completely. I understand we still need some kind of structure in the corporate environment. But, what about an organization that relied not on hierarchy, but on shared teams. Similar to the way some agencies structure themselves. In this scenario, I could envision project managers pulling teams together based on skill sets to meet “client” needs. You might work on a project for three months in a media relations capacity, then work on a project using your strategy and writing skills for the next six. Doesn’t that sound more exciting and stimulating than doing the same thing day after day? I mean who doesn’t want more variety?

I think it’s worth a shot. And, I’d be thrilled to see a company take a shot at this. Prove me wrong corporate America.

Note: Photo courtesy of SmartDraw – Communicate Visually via FlickR Creative Commons.

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Why the corporate org chart must die

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