Your Organizational Chart: Manage the space between the boxes

Your organizational chart displays boxes and arrows, who reports to who, and who’s responsible for what. Yet what do you inevitably create when you put a box around something? You create silos — “us” versus “them.” So, when thinking about your organizational chart — how you group and separate various roles and responsibilities — the question to ask yourself is, “How will we manage the space between the boxes?” Managing the space between the boxes on the organizational chart is crucial because this is where the battles and breakdowns so often occur. Yet when we are consumed with what happens inside the boxes, we overlook what happens in the space between.

Let me give you five ways to manage the space between the boxes in your organizational chart.

1) Have a manager for a critical process that cuts across functions

Create a high-level “integrator” position. Task this person with coordinating efforts across space between the boxes. For example, many companies now have a Manager of the Customer Experience. Their roles and responsibilities include ensuring that the customer receives the same standard of service whether they are interacting with sales, customer service, technical support, or shipping. Service standards might include maximum call-wait time, providing a direct call-back number, or making time-specific follow-up commitments.

2) Create a cross-functional team

When dealing with a problem that crosses the space between the boxes, you could create a cross-functional team. If, for example, customer complaints are an issue, then take a couple of people from relevant areas of your organizational chart where roles and responsibilities impact the customer (such as customer service, sales, and operations), and put them on a cross-functional team.

When executing any strategic change initiative, make sure to include on the team people from each department or function that will be affected by the change. Giving them a seat at the table allows them to feel heard and to share insights that could aid in the success of the initiative.

3) Create a common incentive to achieve a shared goal

When you need various boxes on the organizational chart to cooperate, handcuff together the people who head those boxes by linking part of their bonus to what they collectively achieve. For example, if your objective is to reduce the cycle time of construction projects, then creating a common incentive can help drive collaboration and coordination amongst trades.

4) Spotlight the Space Between the Boxes

Make “managing the space between the boxes” a standing agenda item for every Leadership Team meeting. The task: 1) identify gaps and friction points, and determine how to overcome them, and 2) anticipate potential gaps and friction points, and how to prevent them.

In each case, you want to identify specific, time-linked action items.

5) Implement the “Parachute Program”

This one is my favorite. Take someone from one department and “parachute” them into another department for a day. Have the parachuter shadow a person in the host department to determine how what they do impacts that person and vice versa. Then, have the parachuter return to their workgroup and give a five-minute presentation about what they learned on their day in the other department. What does the parachuter typically say?

  • “I thought I knew what goes on in that department but I had no idea.”
  • “I thought we worked hard. I had no idea how hard they work.”
  • “When we mess this up, I had no idea how much grief it causes for them.”

I had no idea. That’s what they say.

Next, spread the word. Tell their stories or capture their quotes in the company newsletter. For example, here’s what a field employee in a restoration company had to say about the Project Management department he parachuted into:

“I learned how important the Project Coordinator role is. Their work isn’t given enough credit; the field has no idea how important they are. Omar’s team really have their act together, and Jasmine is amazing at her job. Being a Project Manager isn’t as glamorous as field techs think, either. There is a lot of work behind the scenes; it’s not just schmoozing and golfing. And you have to be really good at time management to succeed.”

It’s not uncommon to make assumptions, often negative ones, about other departments. The sales rep who thinks the people in manufacturing are lazy because products rarely get delivered on time. Or the manufacturing supervisor who thinks the sales reps are liars because they make promises to the customer that manufacturing can’t keep.

By having people walk in each other’s shoes and see through each other’s eyes, you build understanding. You also build rapport because when people spend a day together, finding out who each other is, they identify common points of interest:

  • “Oh, you like dogs? Let me show you a photo of our dog.”
  • “You’re a baseball fan. Who is your team?”

Finding common points of interest helps to humanize the other person and build a relationship.

Parachuting people across the spaces between the boxes goes a long way to breaking down the “us” versus “them” silos.

Take 2 minutes. Reflect on where battles and breakdowns are occurring in your organization. Then, record one action you will take to manage the space between the boxes.

Make it happen.


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