How to think about organization structure and organizational charts, today and in the future.

This is the transcript of the video I laid down and captured, it is posted on the homepage.

Hello everyone and welcome to: How to think about organizational structure and organizational charts. 

Today we’re going to talk about future thinking, we are going to address the way we will think in the future and communicate in the future around organizational design, organizational structure, and how we are going to capture this new thinking in our organizational chart of the future. Hint: they are not going to be called Org Charts.

I am Walt Brown the author of the book Death of the Organizational Chart rise of the Organizational Graph.

 And, Yes, if you look closely, those are tombstones on the cover of the book, with little org chart drawings on each of the stones.

Organizational structures, organizational charts and organizational graphs and what they have to do with the Future, this is exciting stuff!

Let’s set some context, and I ask you: don’t freak out, please remain calm, this is normal human stuff, as humans, what makes us unique, is we ORGANIZE! we have always organized around ideas, we have always organized around things that need to get done, this is what makes us unique and what we’re great at doing. Think about words and language, they are all about getting organized. Our current problem is we have no way to clearly capture, visualize and communicate the ways we are currently organized, the tools, methods and approaches have become old, dated and cloudy.

It has become cloudy. So, let’s dig into some more human stuff, more understanding around why our THINKING around organizational structure, design and, capture is currently CLOUDED! 

As humans, in the past, we were organized and we would organize as tribes, and as tribes we would have Elders, and leaders, the final decision makers.  

Nowadays, this decision making is less centralized, more automated, more dispersed, less black and white, and we need a way to really understand and capture how we are organized inside as a modern tribe. And, key point, it should not always start with the centerpiece as the leader, i.e. who we report to, our boss.

It is time to put your Nerd hat on for a few minutes. I want to introduce you to a something. It is the way we are going to capture and communicate the organizational chart of the future and frankly, our modern-day organization.

It’s called a GRAPH and it is time to get your head around this term because you’re going to hear it more and more as people start to use the word Graph, “oh that’s a graph,” meaning information communicated through a graph database.

A little Discovery story around the future of organizational charts: what you see here on the yellow piece of paper is what I drew for Elias Hicks at a Starbucks back in 2017, I was describing to the deep organizational structure consulting work I was doing inside  big organizations and all the different attributes that surrounded an individual contributor at work, I drew this drawing for him, you could almost call it a napkin drawing, since all good ideas start on a napkin, he looks at it and he says: “Oh that’s a graph!” Elias is a data wonk out of Princeton, he knows his stuff.  I say: “Really, What’s a graph?”

So, what is a graph? Probably your best frame of reference is to think about Facebook, and all of the connections they manage.

In 2014 Facebook migrated from what I might oversimplify and call a relational database, and they migrated to a graph database format. Huge oversimplification. I just want you to see that this is coming, graphs are running underneath many systems we already interact with and we don’t even know it.

So, why can’t WE leverage this graph technology to capture organizational structures and to be able to visualize organizational charts as a graph, can the future of organizational structures and charts be based on a graph database structure? My thesis is that Graphs are the only way forward, the only way to capture and communicate the growing complexity of modern organizational structures.

Organizational structures and organizational charts in the future will be known as organizational graphs we will say: “Have you graphed your organization’s structure? Can I see your organizational graph?”

So, what is a graph?

A graph is a form of database that is made up of two basic things.

The graph has objects – I will describe some organizational structure objects for you in just a second.

And a graph has connections, and this is really the important difference, in essence a connection describes the relationship between objects, they are descriptive words, in a graph database the connections carry as much priority, weight and importance as the objects in the database. I will describe some organizational structure connection examples in just a minute

Objects: Let me give you some examples of graph objects that we think about in an organizational structure, that we would love to capture in an organizational chart: Examples:  a job, a person, a team, a meeting, a system, a customer,  a process, a workflow, a skill etc. etc.  all of these are examples of objects that are part of how we are organized at work, we will use these objects in our graph database to help capture our organizational structure and our organizational planning and thinking.

Connections: Here are some examples of connections, remember connections live between objects and give the relationship between the objects meaning. We will use words or terms like: reports to, attends, member of, follows, mentored by, coached by, interacts with, interfaces with, these are the type of example words that will be used as Connections in an organizational graph to communicate more deeply how we are structured organizationally.

Let’s run through some easy-to-understand connection examples using some images. what you’re going to see in each example is a blue line with an arrow tip, and above the blue line with an arrow tip, is the connection phrase and then there’s going to be an icon at the end of the arrow pointing to an object, describing the relationship an object has to another object.  To keep it simple, I left out the from Object and only included the target Object.  Enjoy.

Connection Reports To: We can start with the old familiar reports to and this is basically what we’re capturing in a classic hierarchical organizational chart with the lines, the connection is “reports to”

Connection: attends: we have meetings and we attend meetings – pretty simple.

Connection: member of: we are members of a team.

Connection: follows. We follow processes, we have a bunch of processes, who is following them

Connection: Interfaces with. We interface with systems; think about all the systems that we log into every day. if we have this mapped if we know who is logging in and interfacing with what systems, if we understand who’s inputting data who’s extracting data who’s moving things through a workflow, we might be more organized.  Systems are part of our Everyday Life part of our organization and we need to understand who is interfacing with them and why.       Remember earlier, asked for you to not freak out, to remain calm.  Don’t try to think about how you will capture all of this stuff, just relax and understand and acknowledge that this is the reality, and we need to be able to capture it, and see it.  So, two deep breaths,

Connection: Accountable For. We have goals and objectives, OKRs that we are accountable for hitting. Objectives are in our structure, they have a lot of impact on the way we are organized, we know we have these objectives, now let’s connect them, get them out in the open so we can understand who is accountable for them. Accountable For.

Connection: Responsible For. In order to achieve our objectives, we are responsible for creating short-term results, who is responsible for these results that line up to us achieving our objectives? Connection: Responsible For.

Connection: Function Of.  We have roles and positions that are a Function Of our job. We play and fill many different roles and positions during a day, how do we know they are a part of our Job, a function of our job?  So, connection Function Of.

Connection: Coached by. When we have questions about the roles we are playing, the positions were trying to fill, who do we turn to, to be coached? is it Mapped? Is it natural? Does it make sense, or are we just hanging around until we find a volunteer who is willing to help? Coached By is a needed connection in every modern-day organizational structure.

Last example. 

Connection: Mentored by: this might seem a little granular, but very often the individual we report to is not necessarily the individual we feel we are mentored by, does our organization need to define and map its mentors?

I hope you are getting your head around the language and starting to see of how we can upgrade our thinking from 17th century organizational structure thinking to 21st century graph thinking.

Now that we’ve laid down some connection examples let’s run through some easy to understand organizational structure Object examples, this will be easy, trust me.

In the following, what you are going to see is an image of an Icon that represents the Object, and below the icon is the name of the Object.   Let’s begin with a hard one.

Object: person.  Duh, it wouldn’t be an organization without people, right?  

As matter of fact I believe that an organization is it fiction a fiction that is only given meaning and power by those individuals, those persons who buy in.

So, Object Person.

Object: Job. Well duh we have to have Jobs in our organizational structure. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.

Speaking of reinventing the wheel. I hope what you are seeing is that we are not trying to twist the way we naturally organize, we are not trying to come up with some new fancy ivory tower method or terminology, what we are trying to do is simplify, and just extract the exact Objects that exist in reality and link them with descriptive connection words.

Object: Position or Roles. Jobs have positions and roles that are a function of the job and we need to be able to link and see how these positions and roles tie together inside our organization’s structure, that’s the reality

Object: Skills. Everyone has skills, organizations are made up of people with skills. And Jobs and Positions and Roles require skills. Object Skill.

Object: Meetings. In most organizations people are attending meetings.

Object Team:   nowadays we have all this ranting and raving around teams, we have always been organized around teams, what is a tribe, is it not a team? Object: Team

Object customer: we interact with customers we interact with clients we interact with contracts we interact with projects. each organization is going to be different with regard to the entities we interact with, and, we need to identify each as an object to gain organizational clarity, I’m using Customer to fill this spot.

I know this sounds like a ton of stuff, but it is the reality, and why more than ever we need to be able to discuss it with common language and capture it.

Bear with me.  There is some juicy stuff coming.

object: Process.  Without process there is not consistency, no peace of mind, no profit, if everyone wakes up every day doing things their own way there will be no scalability. We have processes and we need to be able to see what they are, when they come to bear and who is following and maintaining them. Object Process.

Object: System:  I went off on this earlier: But, Think of systems as things we login to. Systems processes and workflows run in parallel, and we need to identify the systems that are logged in to, and who is logging into them and why.  Object System

Object Workflow: I know, deep, deep detail.  But Workflow is still going on, the river of work that is running deep down below, it has just become hidden beneath all of the software that has been stacked on top of it in a rush to automate and systemize. “Click the button, where it goes, nobody knows.” Object: Workflow.  whew.

Object: Objectives.  One more to go after this one.  OKRs, Objectives and Key Results are all the rage, we need to attach them to our Organizational Structure and Organizational Chart, so we see who is accountable for contributing and making them happen.

Object: Result. Last one, and it is very similar but not exactly the same as Objectives.  In the world of OKRs, Key Results are the controllable things that need to manifest that people are responsible for doing. We need to attach them to our Organizational Structure and Organizational Chart, so we see who is responsible for contributing and making them happen. Last Object: Result.

Now the juicy stuff, the fun part since we understand that what we are looking at is a graph example.

 let’s run through some easy to understand object | connection examples and see how it all maps out

Let’s start with something that’s familiar a job

Beside our job object we add a person object and we use the connection owns and we see that this person owns this job

We add a skill object with the connection has and we see that this person has this skill

We add a position or role object and we connect it to the job where these positions or roles are a function of this job

We add the meeting object and connect it to the job showing that this job attends this meeting

We add the team object I connect it to a job showing that this job is a member of this team

We add a customer object connected to the job and we see that this job interacts with this customer

We add a process object and connect it to a job, and we see that this job follows this process

We add a system object connected to a job and we see that this job interfaces with this system

We add a workflow object connected to a job and we see that this job participates in this workflow

We add an objective object we connect it to a job, and we see that this job is accountable for this objective

We add a result object we connect it to the job, and we see that the job is responsible for this result

And of course, back to an organizational chart we have bosses we add a job object labeled boss we connect our job to this boss job, and we see that our job reports to the boss object

Continuing down the same line of a classic organizational chart our boss has a boss that they report to

And one last step extending the organizational chart metaphor our boss has their boss who has the big boss that they report to all mapped out, all visualized.

So, a quick summary and review, graph databases are simply made up of objects and connections I hope you can see how has we evolved organizational structures and a relational charts are going to be thought about through the lens of organizational graphs.

Questions and Answers: You can email me directly – Walt at 7 Q7 p.com (walt@7q7p.com) and we can arrange a phone call, a zoom call or email back and forth, I am a student of the game and enjoy conversing with other students.  You can also go to the website https://ocog.io https://ocog.io or you can see the software at the website https://ograph.io. For the book, just search Death of The Org Chart and it will come up. https://deathoftheorgchart.com is the URL.

The number one question most people ask is this: who does the work the answer is this we typically start at the senior team the c-suite get them in a room get them to agree to all of the position or roles that are being filled by the people around that senior table then we skip all the way out to the front line individual contributors and have them take an inventory of their positions once the positions are out in the open everything falls into place.

Point is this, once you get your positions inventoried and assigned to jobs that are owned by people, these people can easily paint by numbers and fill in your organizational graph map. It becomes paint by numbers.