Wednesday, January 07, 2015

LTR Org Chart

Most traditional organizations have an Org Chart that looks similar to the following:

Org Charts displayed in this way emphasize the chain of command. A quick look at a node in this Org Chart will let you know who someone reports to and who reports to them. The chart gives a clear indication of responsibility; it also gives an impression of "who's in charge" and how far away you are from the top.

Several years ago I joined ThoughtWorks (TW). TW (at least, when I was there) boasted of their Flat Org Chart and it's advantages.
flat organization (also known as horizontal organization or delayering) is an organization that has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives. wikipedia
A Flat Org Chart may look something like the following image.

I've previously written on how joining TW was the single best thing for my career. There were many things I loved about TW - the Flat Org Chart was not one of those things.

The (previously linked) wikipedia article discusses the positive aspects of Flat Organizations - there are several I would agree with. What I find generally missing from the discussion is responsibility. If I make a mistake, who, other than me, could have helped me avoid that mistake? If I need help, whose responsibility is it to ensure I get the help I need? If I'm unhappy and plan to quit, who's going to understand my value and determine what an appropriate counter offer looks like?

In a flat organization, this is me:

Reporting to, thus having access to the person who reports directly to the CEO is great. At the same time, over a hundred other people report to the same person. Would anyone honestly argue that this one individual can guide, mentor, and properly evaluate over a hundred people?

Whenever I bring up responsibility people quickly point out that: those are everyone's issues and it's everyone's responsibility. I generally point these people at Diffusion of responsibility, Bystander effect, and Crowd psychology. Personally, I'd love to see the result of, following a resignation, "everyone" determining an individual's value and producing a counter offer.

I'm thankful for the experience I gained working in a Flat Organization. I'll admit that there's something nice about being one manager away from the CEO on an Org Chart. That said, it was the access to a high level manager and the CEO that I found to be the largest benefit of working in a Flat Organization.

I eventually left TW - a move that was partially motivated by the issues I described above. When I began looking for a new job, organizational structure didn't factor into my decision making process, but I did look for something I called Awesome All the Way Up.
Awesome All the Way Up: Given an Org Chart, do you consider the CEO and every person between you and the CEO to be awesome.
I believed then, and I believe now that you'll always be best off if you put yourself in Awesome All the Way Up situations. When I left TW, I only considered 2 companies - they were the only two I could find that offered Awesome All the Way Up. Everyone will likely have their own definition of "awesome". My definition of "awesome", in this context, is: above all, someone I can trust; someone whose vision I believe in; someone I will always have access to.

One of the two previously referenced companies became my next (and current) employer: DRW Trading. DRW could have a traditional Org Chart, and I would sit towards the "bottom" of it. (note: this is an approximation, not an actual DRW Org Chart.)

Personally, I wouldn't have any complaints with this Org Chart. Every person between me and DRW himself plays an important and specific role. Since I'm in an Awesome All the Way Up situation I have access to each of those people. If I have a CSO problem, I go to the CSO; if I have a CTO problem I go to the CTO; you get the idea. I strongly prefer to know whose responsibility it is when I identify what I consider to be a problem.

You may have noticed I said DRW could have an Org Chart similar to what's above. The phrasing was intentional - if you ask our CSO Derek we have an upside down Org Chart. I'm not sure which of those articles best reflects his opinion. He once showed me a picture similar to the one below and said "part of being a leader is understanding that the shit still rolls downhill, but our hill is different".

Derek and I haven't spoken extensively on the upside down Org Chart, but I assume he's a fan of Servant Leadership. As an employee I (obviously) appreciate the upside down Org Chart and Derek's approach to leadership. As a team lead I find the upside down Org Chart to be a great reminder that I need to put the needs of my teammates first. As someone sitting above Derek on the upside down Org Chart I find the idea of my shit (and the shit of all of my "peers") rolling down to Derek to be... unpleasant.

I was once out with one of the partners from DRW and he introduced me to a friend of his (John). John asked how I knew the DRW partner, I said: he's my boss. The DRW partner interrupted and said: that's not true, we're teammates - I can't do what he does and he can't do what I do, we work together. The partner from this story isn't in my "chain of command", but I find the same team-first attitude present in each person that is.

My discomfort with my shit rolling down on anyone combined with the team-first attitude I've encountered led me to the idea of the Left-to-Right Org Chart (or LTR Org Chart). Below you'll find what would be my current LTR Org Chart.

The LTR Org Chart reminds me to be a Servant Leader while also emphasizing the teammates I can count on to help me out when I encounter issues.

It's probably not practical to generate an LTR Org Chart for every individual in your organization, but it certainly wouldn't be hard to create software to present an LTR Org Chart on a website. It's possible the subtle difference between upside down Org Charts and LTR Org Charts isn't worth the effort required to build the software. I wouldn't mind finding out.

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