Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Editor’s note: The new ways of the enterprise 2.0 transform companies and mean a change that affects even hierarchies and organizational charts. Today we’d like to share with you this post that José Miguel Bolívar posted a few days ago on his blog which we think is highly interesting. Thank you, José Miguel, for letting us share it.
In a recent post, Ximo Salas asked himself where is my organizational chart? and, among other things, he stated that “organizational charts haven’t died” and suggested the need to invent an organizational chart 2.0. Unfortunately, it’s true that organizational charts aren’t dead… Yet.
However, without knowing exactly what Ximo understands as being “organizational chart 2.0” and what type of organizations need one, I think the concept “organizational chart”, or at least in its traditional sense, has no place in the type of organizations we talk about and that we undoubtedly will become, no matter how slow we are in becoming one or how far away they seem at present.
On the other hand, the death, present or future, of the organizational chart is not a new topic. Much has been written, and well done at that. Like for example this post by Manel Muntada and this other one from Pedro Muro.
However, apart from the above, the big question for me continues to be: are organizational charts necessary or not in post-industrial organizations or, as I prefer to call them, in knowledge organizations?
The model used by organizations in the Industrial Era as the backbone is the hierarchy, in other words, a structure that arranges its elements according to criteria of superiority or subordination between people.
This structure starts from a model, bureaucratic administration, that assumes the division of work as its principle of efficiency, expressed as the division of roles and responsibilities and that hence, seeks as its primordial objective to optimize the transmission and execution of orders or instructions.
If we think about the traditional assembly line, the model makes sense. There are people whose responsibility is to think, assess the alternatives, find solutions, assess the risks and propose options. Other people are responsible for making decisions and taking risks. Others are responsible for transmitting those decisions quickly and effectively and supervising that they are carried out to the letter. And others, finally, are responsible for carrying out those instructions.
What’s more, to make it easier, the information travels in a single direction, without return.
But what happens when, apart from “doing”, all people in the organization must also “think” and “decide”? What happens when we want the information to travel in multiple directions and in real time?
In these circumstances, the organizational chart is not only no longer useful, but it becomes one of the main obstacles for organizational performance.
Anyone who knows how a knowledge organization works “from the inside” knows that nowadays the organizational chart has become a decorative and costly element; an organizational relic serving the ego of a few; a bastion of the paradigm of control that perpetuates mediocrity and hinders innovation.
Today, having a specific position on an organizational chart does not indicate how much you know nor how valuable you are as a professional. It only indicates how much you can manage to bother the rest of the organization if you set your mind to it.
Organizational charts today are Snow White’s looking glass of a management class in the process of extinction. The carrot of “some day this will all be yours” for too ambitious newbies. And little more.
The future is going elsewhere. In a world with an overabundance of information, of knowledge in transit, organizations will become progressively more complex while, paradoxically, more flexible and dynamic.
After some years “leveling out” the organizational charts, it turns out that the organizational future is multi-dimensional. Knowledge networks that cross over and superimpose each other, in constant mutation over time.
Knowledge networks that are generated from a shared interest, like for example learning (sharing and generating knowledge) or a project (applied knowledge). What’s more, a single person can play not only one but many roles and these roles can be the same or change according to the network. Different roles in different networks… The antithesis of the organizational chart. And of course, all in constant change.
I’m talking about a future focused on people and not on structures, unlike current organizations, in which people are dependent on the structures (and the processes and technology).
A not-too-distant future in which the most important thing is not how much power you have, rather what you know (you personally and also through your networks), and above all, what you know how to do with all that knowledge and how you are demonstrating it.
In that future, and the need for tools that help tonavigate knowledge networks fluidly becomes evident.
Be it a profile directory, a social search engine, or any other technology solution, we need tools that tell us in real time what people know about a specific subject, in which networks they are operating, on what projects they are working, and how to contact themto in turn weave new networks.
An image that produces vertigo in anyone allergic to change, in organizational zombies, in those addicted to the predictable. But that’s life. Diverse, complex, unpredictable, and constantly evolving.
Fortunately, there is much life after the organizational chart. What’s more, I’d say that the future is ahead of us…
Jose Miguel Bolivar (@jmbolivar) is Artisan Consultant, ICF coach, lecturer, researcher, speaker and author of the blog Óptima Infinito, in which he has been writing about Innovation in Productivity and GTD methodology since 2008. With a degree in Social Psychology and Political Analysis from the UCM, a master’s in HR from the Centro de Estudios Garrigues, José Miguel has extensive experience as an executive in highly competitive environments such as HP or Life Technologies. Currently, as Artisan Consultant and Coach, he works to increase competitiveness in organizations, improving individual and collective productivity of its employees.