Tag Archives: org chart

The Sucker Punch Question of Org Charts

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


I was in your Time Span presentation about Elliott Jaques and Managerial Relationships. I recently discovered that our perceived organization chart is quite different that the one I had or felt was in place. I had all of my managers draw their view of our Org Chart so I can get a better grip on the disconnect. What is the best way to create the most accurate Org Chart and most importantly, implement it?


Interesting that Elliott faced this same dilemma. He described these various versions of the Org Chart this way –

  • Manifest Org Chart – this is the published version
  • Assumed Org Chart – this is the version that different people assume, as many versions as you have people. This is the version you received from your managers.
  • Extant Org Chart – the way the Org Chart actually works, based on observations and interviews. This would include all the dysfunction, vagaries, dotted lines, stupid rules, end arounds and general mayhem.
  • Requisite Org Chart – the design of managerial relationships based on Requisite principles.

When we put Org Charts together, we think the central question is “who reports to whom?” This is a sucker punch question that leads us astray. It is not a matter of “who reports to whom?” but a matter of “which manager is accountable for the output of which team or team member?”

A manager is that person in the organization held accountable for the output of their team. So, when I examine any role, it’s not a matter of who that role should report to. When I examine the role, it’s a matter of which manager is accountable for the output of this role.

This subtle shift is a game-changer. The Organization Chart is a visual depiction of managerial accountability, not “who reports to whom?”

But your question is how best to create this visual depiction. Ultimately, all crumbs lead to the top. I hold the CEO accountable for the design of the work. But the detail of this design is best hashed out in a series of meetings considering these questions –

  • What is the work to be done, tasks to be completed?”
  • What is the Level of Work?
  • What role is best to complete the tasks?
  • Which manager is accountable for the completion of those tasks (output)?

Very interesting questions.

More Problems Than We Had Before

“Let’s look back at your org chart,” I suggested. “You have 110 employees and twelve layers of supervision and management. Two people quit yesterday, so your org chart is already out of date. What do you think you need to change?”

Sydney’s mood had turned from generous to perplexed. “Our intention was to make sure everyone had someone appropriate to report, and to make sure no manager was overburdened.”

“And you ended up with?” I pressed.

“And we ended up with people in positions, creating more problems than we had, before we announced this new reorganization,” Sydney explained.

“I want you to shift your approach to this problem. Instead of trying to figure out who should report to who, determine which manager is accountable for the output of which team. And for this exercise, I want you to reduce from 12 layers to four.”

A friend of mine in Buffalo NY, Michael Cardus, published a short piece on the impact of role-crowding, too many layers. Take a look.

Looks Good on Paper

I was looking at Sydney’s org chart. I could see a familiar pattern.

“We have been working really hard on this,” Sydney explained. “Every manager knows who reports to them, so there should be no confusion. And every direct report has a manager.”

“I am just looking,” I said, “how many layers, or levels do you have on this chart?”

“That’s what took so much time,” Sydney replied. “We have 112 employees, in twelve layers. Pretty good job, neat and tidy.”

“Well, it all fits on one page,” I observed, “even though it’s a big piece of paper. Where did you get this printed?”

Sydney laughed. “The problem is, it looks good on paper, but not so good in reality.”

“Oh?” I said, with a diagnostic look on my face.

“Yes, like the guys on the shop floor. They all report to a Team Leader, Justin, best equipment operator we have. We told Justin, from now on, if they have a problem, you help them solve it. If they have a question, answer it. And at the end of the day, all the work needs to get done.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Sydney took a breath. “The guys are now complaining that Justin is breathing down their necks. They say they already know how to do their jobs and that if they have a real problem, Justin is no help, they have to go to the supervisor, anyway. What’s worse, even Justin’s productivity is suffering, eight out of the last ten production days have been short to the work orders.”

“So, what do you think you are going to do?”

It’s Just a Dotted Line on the Org Chart

It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I would like to welcome our new subscribers from workshops in Minneapolis, Des Moines and Austin.

“What do you mean, she doesn’t know she is accountable? It’s very clear to me,” Megan complained. “She has a very clear dotted line to that area of responsibility. I know it’s not her highest priority, but still, she is responsible.”

“So, there is a conflict in her priorities?” I asked.

“Not a conflict, really, she has to get it all done. Just because it’s a dotted line doesn’t mean she can ignore it. Besides, at the bottom of her job description, it says, -and all other duties assigned.- That should cover it.”

“As her manager, what do you observe about the way she handles the conflict in her priorities?” I pressed.

Megan thought. “I think it’s an attitude problem. It’s almost as if she doesn’t care about one part of her job.”

“I thought it was just a dotted line?” I smiled.

Megan stopped cold. “You think the problem is the dotted line?”

“Dotted lines create ambiguity. Ambiguity kills accountability. What do you think?”