July 1, 2019 //

Is Your Organizational Chart Upside Down?

Most companies still have organization charts that look something like this:

Does that “Top-Down” Org Chart look familiar? 

Unfortunately, diagramming your organization this way represents archaic thinking. It encourages the notion of a chain-of-command where the managers are the “decision-makers”, who thereby command and control the behaviors of the employees “beneath” them. 

Sadly, as universal as this Top-Down Org Chart may be, it completely misses the entire point of business, which is meeting customer needs.  

In fact, you’ll notice that the CUSTOMER — the most important decision-maker of all — isn’t even on the Org Chart!

Furthermore, that “Top-Down” Org Chart completely ignores the critical need for managers to tirelessly support their Frontline Reps’ efforts to meet customer needs.

True Agile Leaders, on the other hand, prefer to have their Org Charts reflect Servant Leadership…example below:

As you can see, at the TOP of this (more) Agile Org Chart are the customers, who are trying to get their business goals accomplished.  And to achieve those goals, those customers rely first and foremost on the Frontline Representatives to support them (with goods and/or services).

The Frontline Manager’s job, then, is to help the Frontline Representatives provide those goods and services, by (for example) hiring and retaining the right people, and getting them any other resources they may need.

Likewise, the purpose of the “next level” manager(s) in the Agile Org Chart is to get the Frontline Managers whatever they need in order to support the Frontline Reps, so that the Frontline Reps can support their customers…and so forth and so on.


Lastly, let’s not forget that the employees who are most likely to understand current customer needs are those who work directly with those customers day in and day out –- the Frontline Representatives.  As such, it’s the experience/discernment of the Frontline Reps that should be guiding operational procedures/decisions – NOT that of their managers. [By the way, for a comedic example of what can happen when Managers don’t understand this particular principle, take a listen to my (EP5) Becoming a True Agile LeaderTM Podcast titled Mistakes Traditional Managers Commonly Make – Their Processes are Bogging Them Down].

Does this mean that managers should simply let employees do whatever they want?  Of course not.  Setting boundaries, providing coaching, mediating colleague disagreements, stepping in if there are customer gridlocks, and so forth are all hugely valuable to Frontline employees… and thereby to your customers.

Similarly, does this mean that the CEO shouldn’t be setting strategic direction?  Absolutely not. Strategic planning is unquestionably an imperative function of the CEO…as long as that planning takes into account the insights of the Frontline Representatives AND reflects the needs of the REAL “boss” – THE CUSTOMER.

Finally, for a comedic dramatization of this topic, check out my Becoming a True Agile LeaderTM  Podcast (EP11 — to be released July 15, 2019) titled Mistakes Traditional Managers Commonly Make – Their Organizational Charts are Upside Down… and consider how it would feel (or has felt) to be in poor Lydia’s shoes.

So here’s my challenge for you: Do you see any value to turning your company’s Org Chart “upside down”? If so, what would happen if you challenged it at your company? Or, in lieu of that, what are the chances you would/could modify the Org Chart for just your immediate sphere of influence (e.g., your team, Vertical, Territory, Department, Division, etc.)?  Please give your thoughts below.

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