Nov 17, 2011

Hierarchy or wider-archy?

We're used to seeing pyramid organization charts with the CEO at the top and the workers down at the bottom, with varying numbers of levels in between. It's popular now to flip the pyramid and show the leader at the bottom supporting the workers at the top.

But are we stuck with a vertical model in our heads? Even if a cross-functional horizontal set of connections is added, it still has a top and a bottom. And we hardly ever see pyramids in real life.

We have no trouble seeing a map as a flattened out representation of reality, with centers of power and critical channels of communication radiating - waterways, roads, railroads, airways. You can drive a car to just about any gemba.
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 We have no trouble seeing a ceiling or a window with a hub-and-spoke design with the center holding the structure in place.

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Why then do we so rarely see organization charts represented this way?


Joe Dager said...

But who is at the center?

Jason Yip said...

There would be multiple centers. I was thinking social network graph.

Unknown said...

@Joe D. I was thinking of CEO, but it could be any critical resource, like Chief Engineer of a new product, HR leading change, or VP of sales and marketing -- but maybe it should be the customer!

@Jason - you're right - hadn't thought of that. I don't have a drawing tool to represent it tho.

Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

What would happen if we put the customer at the middle? How would that affect both the look and the thought process of a circular org chart?

Unknown said...

Definitely would like to see that. The other paradigm is that the width of the layer of the triangle relates to the number of employees at that level. Logical, but it confines our thinking.

Liz Guthridge said...

Interesting and provocative! Thank you for sharing. Be careful of the hub and spokes model though. Several functional departments I've worked with have found that they've moved to that model without being fully aware of it. Handoffs are slow becuase everything ends up going through the boss.

Unknown said...


Good point. I tried to draw concentric circles to show the flow we'd otherwise call "horizontal" but my drawing tools were not good enough. I'd consider the interstate highway system, where you can go to a city's center, or take the beltway to travel from suburb to suburb. Of course, there's always a "you can't get there from here" situation with the interstate system.

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