That all sounds good, we can hear some readers saying, but it’s too complicated man, especially for a new employee. Yes, if you’re relying on a traditional 2-D Org Chart, it’s far too complex, which is why we developed the Organizational Cognizance Model Graph Schema, a “3-D” visualization that makes all of the “Nodes” listed in the questions above (Job, Positions, Teams, Meetings, Workflows, Systems, etc.) and the IC’s relationship to them crystal clear (more on Nodes and Relationships / Connections / Edges later). We have also built user-friendly Organizational Graph software that allows ICs and leaders to quickly and easily build out, view, and investigate their own Organizational Cognizance Models. It is now “easy” to adjust existing Models and to gain insight with a variety of dynamic views (hierarchical, circular, symmetrical, global, orthogonal, etc.). We call this software solution an Organizational Graph,

The icons, which represent Nodes in the Organizational Graph above, and the “Edges” – those lines / arrows indicating how things connect – can be manipulated with a few mouse clicks in the Organizational Graph software, then expanded, and viewed through various lenses to build Organizational Cognizance for the IC or leadership. Details and Rich Text get built into each node, where you can upload files, embed videos, pictures, files, create links etc. for a colorful universe of information –  easily accessed, expanded, or contracted with a click.

This intuitive software is eminently helpful, I think, but certainly not a requirement for developing Organizational Cognizance. The important thing is finding a friendly, manageable way to visualize all relevant Nodes – Positions, Meetings, Processes, Workflows, etc. – and how they connect. Spreadsheets and other tools can also be enlisted. I was personally thrilled to discover the potential of Graph Database technology (think use cases like Facebook and LinkedIn, graph software like Neo4J, Amazon’s Neptune, Microsoft Graph, etc.) used in this software for two reasons: first, because it makes visualization so easy and functional, and second, because technology has played such a large role in complicating organizational life, I figured it was high time that a tech solution made our structures more navigable.

Because technology has played such a large role in complicating organizational life, I figured it was high time that a tech solution made our structures more navigable.
High time technology made structures more navigable.

Think of the layers upon layers of complexity that have been added to organizations – and on the backs of ICs over the years – many of them a result of advancing technologies. Once upon a time, employees at Organization X worked at a central location. They reported to a single boss from a relatively static Job. Communication was spoken – face-to-face or on the phone – and each process tended to have a person attached to it (a paper invoice arrived in an envelope, and a person opened it; he put it in a box for the person who approved it; she stamped it and moved it into another box for the person who made manual journal entries into a ledger…).

The old formula was Job = Position = Person, 1:1:1. Hierarchies were rigid, and, as on sailing ships of old, thinking was done mostly at the very top – by a captain and a tiny handful of lieutenants. The handwork was done by sailors actually grabbing hold of and muscling the lines. In that paper-based world, the two-dimensional Org Chart provided an adequate birds-eye view for a top-down “command-and-control” model.

Today, there’s no more central 9-to-5 location. ICs are working remotely, from home, at co-working spaces, on trains, and in coffee shops – according to all sorts of flexible schedules. They often don’t know when reaching out if a colleague is across town or across the globe. The office is defined by cell phones, laptops, tablets, and WiFi – not a desk, landline, calculator, four walls and a window. An IC reports to various people, depending on the project, task, or team on deck, though, practically speaking, she might have no traditional “boss” or “supervisor” on a daily basis.

And we haven’t yet mentioned the number of systems, automated processes, and communication channels that even a frontline IC now encounters on a daily basis. In my work with organizations of all types and sizes, I sometimes ask leaders to take an inventory of the various systems that their ICs use to communicate. A thorough list often includes twenty or more. Add to this CRM (customer relationship management) software, vendor platforms, human resources systems, facilities apps, internal networks, and the countless other systems and processes now present at a typical organization, and it’s no mystery why “Who is doing what?” looks more like the scary lid to Pandora’s box than a simple question.

I have a client that calls their many systems the “list of Slogins,” as in, all the stuff you have to log into and slog through.

I have a client that calls their many systems the “list of Slogins,” as in, all the stuff you have to log into and slog through
List of Logins = Slogins

These systems, apps, processes, and communication channels are usually introduced by well-meaning decision makers to improve service or efficiency, to save labor, or make life easier in some way. Many do. Many are invaluable tools, but all add a layer of complexity. Like meetings and memos, they proliferate insidiously until an Individual Contributor who wants to figure out her Positions and Purpose and how they relate to long-term Objectives might as well be delving into astrophysics. Simply trying to understand why a particular Meeting matters or who to turn to for Coaching on X or Y can be a daunting prospect. So, what does the IC do? Nothing. They adopt the attitude that it’s better to keep one’s mouth shut and appear uninformed rather than opening it and removing all doubt. Let’s break this fear cycle.