The Organizational Strategist

September 16, 2010

Is it time to change the org chart? Ensure the strategy is clear before making a change.


There have been many times when I’ve heard that an organization chart needs to be changed. The organization chart consists of the set up of teams, business units and other groupings of people. It also shows the reporting relationship and functional domain or title of those involved. The reason for the organization change that comes from a new org chart is often not clear. Changing for the sake of change itself is not good cause because this could lead to results that are good or bad. Changing without clear reasoning means that a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges awaits the organization. Too often the org chart itself is used to justify large changes. Instead, strategy should always come first.

-Follow the strategic path for clearer alignment –

Strategy sets the path forward. The organizational structure, process, reinforcement and policy should all follow. Strategy shines light on the direction to go forward. That light helps illuminate what resources and capabilities of the organization should be utilized and cultivated.

Creating a new structure (that structure coming from organization charts) to move forward without knowing how it fits with strategy may, in fact, be counterproductive. Organizing without a purpose in mind is like searching in the dark without a guiding light. The end goal may be achieved through a haphazard search, but you may get a lot of bumps, trips, or even falls before you reach it.

Imposing a new structure induces a disruption to the norm. It frees the boundaries of the established work flow and manners of work that are done. This can be cause good or bad results. In these situations where there is no clear path forward, it comes down to perception of the change instead. It depends on how that disruption is understood and oriented as to what the effect is like. If the change is seen as a problem or signals fear, that has lasting negative effects. On the other hand, if the change is seen as an opportunity, it may help open and broaden the perspective of the organization. In order for this kind of change to be helpful for the organization’s aims, the strategy needs to be clear and understood. That way, people understand better on how they can help make that strategy effective instead of simply relying on their perception of the change.

Thinking of a strategy in the view as a game of soccer comes to mind. Generally speaking, the aim of a soccer game is to score more goals in the allotted time than the other team. However, the approach teams take vary widely. The number of players at different parts of the field, how they play offense or defense, what formations to run (if any) and other elements tie into the structure of how to execute that strategy. The roles and responsibilities of the player alignment are akin to an organization chart. With young players, they all mass together to find and kick the ball around the field. This is what I’ve heard called bumble bee soccer. It’s like the ball is the core of the hive with players all buzzing around. As the players mature in skill and experience, roles become established and the clarity and helpfulness of an organizational chart (offense, midfield, defense, and goalie) is put in place and made clear. That organization alignment helps ensure the strategy is effective. Otherwise, the chaos of a structure imposed without cause or clear reason may not fit the aim of the strategy.

Strategy should be set as the guiding light for other action. There is much to say on how to set a strategy, how to communicate it and how to follow it. The structure that is set in an organization is a very strong support to enable a strategy to be effective. An organization chart is a common format that you would see and understand a structure but it could be much more. Organizational communication, responsibilities, roles or functions and other forms of operation fit in. Often times a hierarchy or chain of command is used in business, but it could be many different types of decision making and process (oligarchy, democracy, meritocracy, etc.). A flatter organization (meaning less hierarchy levels) allows for more independence of decision making, but does not has as clear a means of review or elevation in the instance of a problem. Organizations that need to respond quickly to market changes or that have a large diversity of products/services may be well served to have a flatter org chart. An org chart that is steep (meaning more hierarchy levels) centralizes decision making and often creates more controlled and oriented activity. Organizations that need tight control and monitoring to assure quality of end result or process may need a steeper org chart.


Like any type of change, there should be a driving end state that an organization aspires to achieve through its strategy. The org chart should be a core component to enable progress to help achieve the end state. There are many ways of advancing toward an end state. The path one leader may choose could be different than another. Each of those paths may be effective in their own way. Regardless of the approach, the underlining strategy should always be well known and clear to those who are involved and impacted by the strategy throughout the implementation. If this knowledge and comprehension is not present, inquire about it to make it understood better. The org chart changes are too often seen as the strategy itself. Do not change for the simple sake of change. Change because you believe in it. Change because you see value in its progress. Change because it will help you win in your market.

Blog at