How we organize our companies, from entire areas to specific teams, needs to change. And data makes this need for change visible, helping to reinvent one of the oldest management tools.
This tool used to be a reflection of how our companies operated. Processes and people were tied to it. Entire companies dutifully followed its shape and direction. I’m talking, of course, about organizational charts. These little maps, with their lines, rectangles, diamonds, and squares, were supposed to show hierarchies and the flow of work. They visualized responsibilities and ordered the distribution of power.
Yet the work models brought about by the digital era — and, more recently, by the pandemic — have torn this tool apart. Many of you reading this are probably thinking: “Well, it’s about time.” But some are perhaps feeling a bit helpless and vulnerable, as this tool appears to lose value and influence.
However, it would be a mistake to believe organizational charts will be swept away by the currents of our new liquid world. On the contrary, organizational charts are just reinventing themselves. And data has a hand in this.
Indeed, by capturing, ordering, and interpreting data, we can — maybe for the first time ever — objectively understand how our organization truly moves and functions. Data helps us map and validate workflows without bias. Better yet, it allows us to understand the behavior of people within the organization.
From this point of view, we can rethink organizational charts. Data helps us measure the assessments and requirements that emerge throughout an organization. We can set expectations and objectives, and evolve towards a different culture. And organizational charts can serve as our compass.
A new map based on data
Recently, I discussed this with the general manager of one of the largest distributors in Paraguay. Thanks to data, he had been able to see an image of the transactions carried out by his staff of 500 collaborators. And with this image, he was able to reconstruct why delivery times across the value chain were so slow. He realized his organization was too rigidly hierarchical. The decision-making process took too long to react in time to a moving market. The company culture was heavy and stagnant.
As such, the company wasn’t following the fluctuations of market demands, much less anticipating them. Thus, the general manager understood that he had to flatten the company structure in order to return to previous production levels. He scheduled a series of visits to his company’s branch offices. And by meeting up with his collaborators away from the main office, he saw that the company had changed and opened up, and that most leaders hadn’t taken note. He proved his intuition right when he saw the results of a companywide climate survey. As it turned out, the flow of information was passing through some areas but not others, despite what the old organizational chart seemed to indicate.
That’s when he decided to redefine the company structure, creating a new organizational chart in which lines were not drawn based on hierarchy but on the interdependence of different teams.
In the world of agile work — whether it’s hybrid, flexible, or on-site — data can help clarify what would have remained obscure years ago: how to loosen up supervisory frameworks in an organization.
By correctly interpreting data, we can understand — objectively and without bias — why the solution is not to increase the number of supervisors, leaders, and coordinators, but to form teams that can take on different roles in different projects. This is where organizational charts can play a key role. For the first time, they can objectively reflect day-to-day interactions. And with this knowledge, we can truly understand the forces that move our organizations, without being swayed by our preconceptions. We can recognize the strengths and weaknesses that make our organizations what they are, and work to improve matters.
The final result will be an organization that can make an impact in the market, not because of its size but because of the unique value of its people.
By Claudio Ardissone, Managing Director of Olivia Paraguay