Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your ORG Chart is a BLAME flow chart

Your organization's org chart might be more about defining a flow for blaming someone rather then helping you to understand how the organization actually works.

Traditionally companies create an organization chart to provide order to the madness and chaos.  The org chart generally contains a name, and a title and provides this nice neat way to see who reports to who and who might have information that you might need to get.  Boxes neatly contain people, grouped into other groups who report to managers who report to VPs and so on.  The problem I see is that this same problem solving org chart can be used as a huge bat to bonk you on the head in an organization that values a command and control attitude.

In a traditional company (one that is likely headed for a huge spiral of death at some point, another post for sure) the managers all feel the need to manage.  Managers are provided arbitrary features, that need to be done by arbitrary dates or at least it seems that way.  Work items tend to lack context for why they need to be done in the first place.  The missing context forces managers to attempt to fill in blanks with what they already know or can easily find out.  This picture will be incomplete - but the all important DATE which was derived based on this information will be held sacrosanct.  The team will work to deliver by that date, but will invariably run over and release some time after the original date.  Sometimes this late delivery causes other things to slip and on and on.

No one is specifically held accountable for these date slips in the organization, but what starts to happen is that work items requested and placed onto a group but not completed begin to get noticed by anyone in that reporting tree on the org chart (remember that all important information dissemination device). This is a terrible reflection on the ability of that group of people from the org chart to deliver so blame starts to be laid.  This blame may start at the lowest level, but soon works its way up the org chart and around the org chart following the connections on the org chart.  This is a terrible feedback loop however, as blame makes people more defensive, and more likely to want to have really tight control over what is being requested and what promises are being made in relation to delivery.  In the end - the org chart might actually be the worst thing for the company as it describes a way to shirk accountability off onto someone else for a failed effort.

In the reverse this same chart can indicate who to praise when things go right, but lets face it if your organization is already command and control it might be the exception rather than the rule that someone is getting praised for independent effort and thinking.

Imagine what would happen however if the org chart showed nothing more than how the 'teams' (cross-functional teams) related to one another, you might still be able to assign blame, but now its a team blame - which is easier to own up to and take accountability for.  You org chart now isn't describing reporting structure and is less useful in providing a blame path and more useful in providing a way to discover where answers to specific questions can be had.  It revalues the relationship of who reports to who into a teaming thing and a matrix idea.  We might be better for a change like this in our companies.

Just a thought.

EDIT: I should add that this thought process was inspired by the comment from Claudio Perrone's presentation @ LSSC 2012.
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