Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thinking through tables of organization and their communications enablers and barriers 1

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 11, 2013

I have written a number of times about tables of organization in this blog. See, for example, my series: Best Practices for Building a Better Table of Organization (at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, 217 and following for Parts 1-5.) I have also written repeatedly about working with businesses and their table of organization structures when they do not necessarily follow best practices approaches. And I frequently cite these structures when writing about strategic and operational processes and practices in general. My goal for this posting is to discuss how organizational systems as actually practiced and functionally in place, can and do deviate from a business’ formal and official table of organization structure and certainly as it is publically laid out and officially stated. And I begin this discussion with the fundamentals.

A table of organization arises in essentially any business or organization when it expands in scale and complexity to have any significant work area specialization distributed across its staff. Separate lines develop within the table of organization that demarcate separate functional divisions (e.g. Finance, Operations, Information Technology, Marketing or Marketing and Communications, Sales, Production, etc.) And these generally align with patterns of who reports to whom and who they in turn report to, with divisions and subdivisions set up according to work flow and areas of responsibility. This at least holds potential for creating organizational clarity if not simplicity, as a well drafted and maintained table of organization shows where everyone is connected into this larger overall system, and with all managers at least, explicitly listed in this overall plan. Employee directories flesh that out, listing non-management staff as well as management and with contact information usually included for all, and certainly for all in-house employees. And when these directories are maintained online, as for example as a basic company intranet resource, it is easy to assign their update to Human Resources and as a basic part of their onboarding and promotions processes, and it becomes relatively easy to also include consultants and others too who also consistently do work for this organization.

That, I add, is often more a cartoon representation of what is really done than a fully accurate depiction of the organization as graphically laid out in chart form.

• Projects and even de facto functional groups arise that are not necessarily shown on the formal table of organization. This becomes all but inevitable for organizations where teams and their management are set up quickly to address specific complex goals and then dissolved when those tasks are completed, abandoned or ready to be passed along to others for next-stage work.
• Considering more stable and long-term team and organizational structures, tables of organization might show primary managerial and team relationships. But they tend to leave out dotted line management where an employee might formally report to one person but still spend a significant among of their time and effort at work reporting in practice to someone else. As an example here, consider a situation where a specialist working formally for one manager in their “home team” is in effect farmed out to work directly with a stakeholder team and for their manager while working on a project that directly addresses their needs as a high priority for the business as a whole. In-house consultants do this all of the time and even when their direct reporting to their own formally assigned manager remains securely in place. (You can think of this as a situation where day-to-day management oversight and performance evaluation responsibilities effectively become decoupled.)
• Tables of organization also, in general only partly show matrix management systems where that approach is followed, and where individuals directly and formally report to several distinct managers, and sometimes even in what are ostensibly different lines in the table of organization.
• And they essentially never show the work-arounds where employees who formally work on one team and for one manager seek advice, guidance and even formal approval support for what they do because their official lines of authority do not work effectively – but they still need to get their work done. I have seen this type of situation develop a number of times when, for example a key management level stakeholder in effect takes over to get the work that they critically require completed. I distinguish this from the situation laid out in my second bullet point of this list because I am citing a more pathological situation here: one where management and leadership problems are being worked around and bypassed. My second bullet point, above, addressed a much more functionally effectively working situation. And I find myself thinking of two very real-world further examples related to this more problematical-situation as I write this bullet point. One involved a new manager in training who was having tremendous difficulties making that transition, but the work he was responsible for managing was time-sensitive and absolutely had to get done. So what should have been his management oversight was in effect turned over to others – by the people who had to hands-on do this work as they sought out more effective managerial support. The other involved a family business where an employee related to the owning family who did not have the skills or temperament to manage or lead held a management title – and had to be worked around for essentially everything.
• I specifically note in this context that significant, ongoing structural deviations from a table of organization and what it can readily show, can arise from either normal business functioning or from work-arounds that are arrived at to limit the impact of problems and inefficiencies.
• And as a final categorical example here, I go back to the table of organization best practices series that I noted at the very beginning of this series. A business can in effect start out growing into what for it is a dysfunctionally wrong table of organization structure, and particularly where its founders and executive leadership hold strongly to operational beliefs and assumptions that do not mesh with or even connect with strategic necessity. But table of organization disconnects between formal lines of authority and actual management and oversight, and even work flow ownership can also simply develop with time. They can in effect be evolved into.

And this at least semi-taxonomic breakdown of how a table of organization can break down brings me to a crucially important point:

• Tables of organization can either drive operational and strategic excellence by bringing the right people and other resources together on the right tasks and functional responsibilities and with the right support – or they can systematically prevent that from happening.

I am going to continue this discussion in a second posting where I will focus on a form of organizational dysfunctionality that I have written about many times, and that I have at times had to work at unraveling in my professional practice: dysfunctional organizational silos (see for example, my series: When Silo Walls Mean there is No Overall Corporate Culture at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 as postings 209 and loosely following for parts 1-4.)

• Organizational discontinuities and gaps, and management authority ambiguities and conflicts arise from the types of table of organization inefficiencies that I write of here. And with time these challenges can drive the creation of silo walls with the additional operational and strategic challenges that they create, but with these organizational barriers formed as a sort of scar tissue-like protective response if nothing else.

My goal for this follow-up posting will be to discuss the issues I touched on with that, in more detail. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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