For those of us who like things neat and tidy, organizational charts can be a delight. It shows people in geometric boxes in a hierarchy that reflects the structure of your company. It clearly delineates who's in charge, who reports to whom and relationships between departments. In a way, an organizational chart is an idealized version of your company, showing the way things should work.
But that's not the way things really work! While organizational (or org) charts aren't without value—particularly to the outside world, who might wonder who's who—they have some weaknesses. Organizational charts don't account for personalities. They can miss the dynamics that are dependent on the all-important emotional intelligence of members of your company. Also, org charts fail to account for the role of your customers—personalities that can shape the way your company works.
Move Over, Organizational Charts
I think a much more useful tool is the social chart.
What is a social chart? It's a map of the relationships, personalities and networks that affect company performance. Depending on the size of your business and your company model, you may or may not benefit from a hard copy version of a social chart. But what entrepreneurs can benefit from is working to understand the way your company's social chart works.
Here's how I make it work for me. I've identified four basic roles or personality types that are relevant to the way my companies run: leaders, influencers, followers and pot stirrers. Leaders are the ones who are in charge of the social networks in your company. They're the folks people turn to when they have problems (whether personal or professional), and they sit at the head of your social chart.
Influencers are the second-in-command. They're your trendsetters. They may be arbiters of style, activities and atmosphere, and they may work with or separate from your leaders.
Followers are the people looking to the leaders and influencers for cues about how to work, play and engage with other personalities. They're not to be overlooked, though, since they comprise the bulk of your staff. When followers get behind a person or an idea, they can make it even more powerful (or weaken it).
Pot stirrers can fall into any of the above categories, but they're special cases. They tend to see the negative aspect of issues, and they tend to like to work behind the scenes. They're the folks who can tank an initiative or even run an employee out of the business altogether. Identifying pot stirrers can be hard depending on how under-the-radar they are, but if you can pick them out, you can work to mitigate their influence.
In order to chart my company's social structure, I use a combination of being a detached observer (stepping back and watching how situations unfold) and an active participant (asking questions and engaging in the networks I've identified). I look for alliances and antagonism, which can help me see how my employees are connected. I watch who eats lunch together and who shuts down conversation when they enter the room.
What to Do With Your New Social Chart
Understanding your company's network can help you improve the way your company runs in a number of ways. When you're launching a new project, you'll want to make sure you enlist the support of your leaders and influencers. If you're putting together a special project team, your social chart can help you identify who will work together best, and can help you avoid problematic configurations.
One of the things I've found most useful about my companies' social charts is the insight they give me when something unexpected happens. Say my new client's recruitment drive that had been going so well suddenly tanks. I look for my pot stirrer's fingerprints. Perhaps I notice a shift in priorities, and I look to one of my influencers to see if their opinions have shaped attitudes.
Understanding your company's social chart can be a powerful tool when it comes to navigating the tricky waters of personalities in any business. As much as we'd like to think organizational charts drive our companies, we all bring personalities into the office, and those personalities may have profound effects on company performance. Any tool that gives you insight into the real workings of your social networks in the office can be valuable.
Read more articles on company culture.