The Value of Org Charts: Look at the white space

Whilst it is true that Change has always been ‘the only constant in life’, the pace, magnitude, and impact of workplace change today, dwarfs anything that has ever come before.

Three significant shifts are currently impacting organisations across the globe:

  1. The lowering of trade barriers has significantly increased the quality and quantity of business competition.
  2. The daily advances made in technology, are making communicating easier, BUT leading to the death of the traditional ‘9-5’ job and a world where soon 40% of all work roles will become redundant.
  3. The old guard are retiring and being replaced by millennials who hold different attitudes towards, and expectations around work.

In this environment few would argue that a business as usual approach will lead to sustained success. As a result, many businesses are reassessing their current practices.

Strategies & Structures - Designed for Success

In times of turbulence there is tremendous business opportunity, however in order for organisations to capitalise, principles of good Organisational Design (strategy and structure) must prevail. In most organisations senior leaders are obsessive about strategy, yet for some reason organisational structure does not seem to share the same spotlight. This begs the question - why?

When thinking of an organisation’s structure most people immediately cast their minds towards its most tangible representation - the org chart - That one-page document filled with lines and boxes depicting the formal relationships and interdependencies between individuals, teams, and departments. Over the years whether based around function, product line, customer experience, or mission many models of organisational structure have been developed (traditional heretical, flattened, matrix to name but a few) and boiled down to simple, clear org charts.

The simplicity and clarity of org charts is extremely deceptive, because the most influential aspect of an organisation’s structure isn’t depicted in the interconnected lines and boxes, it lies in the white space in between - the informal rules and norms that make up an organisation, its culture. Paying inadequate attention to everything in the white space is the primary reason that change initiatives and formal restructures often take many years to bed down (if at all). For change to be successful our organisational leaders need to start with the white space - start with the culture and then redraw the org chart, not the other way round.

Bringing it together: It starts (and ends) with culture

Despite org charts lulling us into the false sense of security that organisational structure is neat, simple, and clear, the complexities of organisational structure should not be underestimated nor treated as set and forget. The real value of org charts is that they reminded us to look beyond the formal and cultivate everything in the white space.

HR Business Direction can assist you to look into the white space and build an organisational culture to support your organisation’s strategy.


Alistair Kerr, MPsychOrg; PostGradDip Psych; BPsych

Organisaitonal Development Strategist | Psychologist

07 3890 2066

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