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Are organisational charts irrelevant?

Are organisational charts irrelevant?

The person you report to is less relevant than who you work with. Your individual competencies, relationships and accountabilities mean more today than your job title or job description.

I’m often asked “What’s the right organisational chart for a high-performance IT function?” Of course there is no universally correct answer to that question — it depends on many factors, including but not limited to the industry drivers, the enterprise strategy, the maturity of the IT function and/or the IT delivery model. But I wonder if we should start thinking about the real relevance of organisational charts to superior performance. Traditionally, the organisational chart was the primary definition of authority and accountability. It reflected organisation hierarchy and defined the boundaries and relationships between distinct functions and the ascending levels of authority within those functions. It typically defined individual job roles and responsibilities and prescribed how work would flow within and between boxes on the chart.

This is no longer the case in an increasing number of enterprises. In many respects the organisational chart distracts from rather than enhances organisational performance. In today’s highly dynamic, globalised, distributed and virtualised work environment, organisational relationships have yielded to highly matrixed structures. These aggregate employees into diversified, virtual workgroups glued together by a common purpose, processes, collaborative application tools, and knowledge repositories.

The question isn’t, “What is the right organisational chart for a high-performance IT organisation?” Rather, it should be, “How is work managed in a high-performance IT organisation?” It’s an increasingly relevant question for CIOs because it focuses on workflow and the roles, responsibilities and touch points for efficiently delivering IT services to the enterprise. Here are some key principles to keep in mind when looking at this question:

Foster leadership up and down the IT organisation.

In an increasingly virtualised, team-based and process-centric IT organisation, leadership skills emerge as central to business effectiveness. Leaders emerge when the work environment is characterised by a sense of trust, empowerment and accountability. The IT management team should include leadership development as a high-priority objective in individual performance goals. By stressing leadership, you can anticipate greater initiative, more distributed decision-making and more autonomous and collaborative approaches to

work assignments — rather than relying on a job title and the employee’s position on the organisational chart.

Establish and clarify organisational purpose.

Purpose, when clearly expressed and reflected by strong leaders, inspires ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Purpose resonates, drives excellence, invokes people’s passion, and connects disparate people through a common bond. Purpose transcends the IT organisation mission statement (and the organisation chart). It provides design goals for processes and gives clarity and meaning to individual roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities in the context of planning and executing work assignments.

Stress governance over hierarchy.

IT governance assumes an urgent priority in a more horizontally organised and highly matrixed environment. IT governance defines IT-related decision-making authority and accountability. Done effectively, governance supersedes hierarchy by liberating the IT organisation from the inflexibility of reporting structures, which frequently have little relevance to the critical IT decisions that typically relate to cross-functional and cross-organisational processes.

Build and sustain an organisational culture that reinforces the business structure.

Cultural alignment is a major organisational imperative that must be nurtured and sustained in a growing and boundless work environment. Individuals sense and respond intuitively to cultural norms in the IT organisation, more than they do to rank and title. Misalignment between the IT organisational culture and the overall business culture will invariably result in political conflict — or worse, organisational malaise. The CIO and the IT management team must ensure that the IT organisation embraces and reinforces the business culture.

The organisational chart is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a definition of job identity and accountability, and as a tool for managing work.

The person you report to is less relevant than who you work with. Your individual competencies, relationships and accountabilities mean more today than your job title or job description. Organisational structure will yield to workflow processes and interdependencies. The organisational chart will continue as a framework for delineating reporting relationships; but its primary role is moving to an administrative tool for managing personnel issues and budgets, rather than a framework for managing work.

Mary Ann Maxwell is Gartner group VP, executive programmes.

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