How To Create A Kick-butt Org Chart

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Current State of the Org Chart

Org charts get a bad wrap. With them falling somewhere between the 6-hour cable window and telephone customer service on the “helpful” scale.

But utility all depends on use. In other words, whether or not they are helpful depends on how and why you use them.

Won’t you join my movement? To change the org chart’s reputation from a boring obligation to an active tool? As you read my tips, and see a fancy example from Creately, I hope to sway you if you aren’t swayed already.

What Org Charts Can Do

As bare, basic diagrams an org chart won’t be of much use. But look at them as the communication tools they are and they become much more meaningful. Just think about it. In one visual you can:

– Internally Communicate
– Team Build; and
– Market

simultaneously. Not to mention, org charts are the “Jelly Bean” of business documents. Found in a number of different flavors and packages, with this variety comes opportunity.

In grant applications, an org chart can tell a story, clarify and help an organization stand out. An internal org chart creates an opportunity to acknowledge, to reward, to market, and to share strategy.

You could be missing an opportunity to connect with funders, employees AND donors. Just by creating run of the mill org charts.


Different Strokes For Different Folks

As different as org charts may come, there’s still basic information you’ll want to include. Who’s in the organization, the reporting lines and the divisions of work are a few. But what else should your audience know?

If the goal is to showcase the organization’s nervous system, then focus on explaining the dynamics between different stakeholders. Disney company did a great job at this by illustrating how its divisions tie in with its audiences.


Other things you may want to communicate:
– Priorities or focus areas within the organization.
– How funky entity structures work together.

What to Think About…..

….when creating or refreshing an org chart? Ask, do I want to focus:

– On employees with a specialization? Or employees who are jacks of all trades? Get clear on this to decide on a chart structure. The more confusing divisions of labor are, the broader and more fluid a chart will have to be.

– On staff inclusiveness? If you want to highlight the importance of field staff then turn your org chart on its head, literally. Invert the structure and include the “day to day” folks at the top with “management” at the bottom.  You could also structure the chart as a circle and get away from a hierarchy entirely. Here, to communicate divisions in reporting you’d use ‘layers” and the CEO as a hub.

– On storytelling? Consider a “chart” with pictures and personalize by including quotes. This could be each person’s favorite thing about the organization or best moment in their role. Or if this is more about introductions, make the chart a photo collage.

– On communicating strategy? As in the strategy for future hires or growth? Outline this in grant reports or funder communications to communicate vision or hurdles. Internally, this is  a great way to make sure you cover gaps or overlap.

Other Tips and Tricks

Creating a chart is a chance to deconstruct and review your staffing model.  So, if in the process of creating it your chart starts to look like this:

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it might be a good idea to revisit some of your underlying assumptions. Or the entire model.

Here are a few other tips:

-For complex or large divisions include a breakout chart. For example, where you have a  large development department (I know, you should be so lucky but if you did) you could magnify it in the margin and breakdown who makes up the group. The same could be true for a supporting organization you want to bring attention to.

– Get creative with ways to show the different roles, reporting levels and work division. Use different colors, shapes and lines.

– For internal org charts,  you could include contact details, department pages, sites, hyperlinks,etc. Consider including decision-making power and save people the four different emails to find out. A good example of this is where a supervisor has to approve purchase orders over a certain amount.

-Drop the mouse and walk away from the Word Document. Organizations are incredibly dynamic, which means its org chart has to stay dynamic. Consider using online applications to create org charts so you can update information quickly. And it’s accessible by more than one mythical person in HR.

-Instead of diagramming  people, consider using divisions. A big plus of doing this is it allows for flexibility and encourages departments to educate each other. This approach also solves the silo problem, something that happens when you associate people with  specific roles.

– Don’t be afraid to rally around a specific philosophy. You can communicate this through the org chart’s structure. Be creative with the how, keeping in mind affiliate networks, geography or other ways you can break down the organization.

– Where the organization is flat, focus less on specific roles and focus more on the individuals and/or their sphere of responsibilities.


As charities and service organizations evolve, so too will the way we communicate them. The takeaway here? Don’t take one way of doing this, org charts, for granted. They come up in so many clutch situations, like grant funding, business loans, program applications and board materials. Take this opportunity to brag and  make your organization stand out.

If you’ve never put an org chart together, and you’re looking for a foundation, I found this article from HubSpot incredibly helpful.

In the world of organizational structures, the options you have to choose from include things like chain of command (long or short?), span of control (wide or narrow?), and centralization (centralized or decentralized decision-making?), just to name a few.
– via

And here’s that cool example of a unique org chart from Creately, an online app where you can make diagrams and org charts.

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