UK: Pyramids are passe.

UK: Pyramids are passe. - Are organograms just a hangover from hierarchies?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Are organograms just a hangover from hierarchies?

A few years ago, almost any manager, at almost any level, could reach into his desk and pull out an organisation chart, a simple diagram-matic guide to the structure of the business and its various departments, hierarchies and relationships. A lot of managers still can. But surely organograms cannot serve much purpose in these days of flattened structures, and when so many people work in teams that form and reform according to need?

'They're not as common as they were,' confirms Michael Brocklehurst, a lecturer at Imperial College management school. 'They signal a rather rigid approach to organising. They go with fixed job descriptions, and in that sense they suggest a rather bureaucratic company.' Brocklehurst would expect to find organograms still in use in the public sector or recently privatised enterprises, or in other traditional industries made up of businesses which Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian guru of corporate organisation, would categorise as 'machine bureaucracies'. Brocklehurst would not look for them in smallish companies or in fast changing companies or industries.

True enough National Power publishes a chart showing the board and executive and all their direct reports, some 70-75 people in all. Updates appear in the internal newspaper, 'as and when there's been any material change', says the company's chief spokesman. TI Group can also see use in organograms.

The company has a fairly simple structure, according to its spokesman, but each of the three arms would have its own charts showing levels and relationships.

TMA is the name of a training consultancy which 'works with international organisations to develop multinational teams'; and 'no,' says director Christopher Crosby, 'we don't have an organogram.' The business is not only too small, with 45 consultants - and maybe 15 freelances on call - it is also 'a bit amorphous and evolving all the time'. Imagination, the creative consultancy, is a size larger with some 200 on the payroll, but this is undoubtedly what Mintzberg would call an 'adhocracy'. Employees belong to one specialist group or another, but generally work on multi-specialist projects as needed. 'We know who everybody is, and the way we work is pretty fluid,' says a spokeswoman. Naturally, there are no charts.

The computer company ICL is a couple of sizes bigger again, a fast changing business in a still changing field. ICL, too, has no organogram. But the company had one in the past, as its chief spokesman reveals, and the present lack could simply reflect the sheer pace of organisational change in recent months. Other firms in the IT sector refute the notion that organograms do not belong in the world of high tech. Digital Equipment produces a chart giving the names of key people in its UK and Irish operations - including pictures of the top men - 'for employees to put up on the wall'.

It may not be a conventional organogram but it's clearly derived from one.

At Unisys they 'do have conventional organisation charts for each of the three businesses - information services, hardware and customer service'.

Even a small British software company like Nexor will draw up an organisation chart showing who's in engineering, finance, sales or support. 'Ours is rather shallow because we have just 47 people in the UK,' says Nexor chairman Hugh Smith.

'Almost every organisation I've seen has an organogram,' says Nigel Nicholson, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School. 'All will have some kind of map for recruitment and budgeting. Whether they represent clear reporting lines is another matter.' It's reassuring the business schools sing from the same sheet. 'You can't do without an organogram,' says Andrew Kakabadse, professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cranfield School of Management. 'But does it tell you what's happening on the ground?'.

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