How To Read an Organizational Chart

An organizational chart (more popularly called an org chart) is similar to a family tree. It looks like a flow chart that visually displays the hierarchy of a company. Interrelationships between positions in an organization are clearly shown in this diagram.

An organizational chart is essential to any business. It explains to the viewer how each department or section relates to one another. The different ranks and positions within the company and how they relate to each other are illustrated. Employees derive a better understanding on where they belong and how they fit into the company’s structure by looking at an org chart.

What organizational charts show

Any of the following relationships can be depicted in an organizational chart:

  • Line - direct connection between superior with his subordinate
  • Lateral - relationship of different departments on the same level of the hierarchy
  • Staff - relationships between managerial assistants to other sections
  • Functional – connections between specialist positions and other positions

Elements of an organizational chart

The organization chart is made of rectangular blocks, lines and text. These elements show the relative relationship of all the departments and positions within the organization. As you go down the levels, the blocks tend to become smaller in some org charts. Some rectangles are divided which indicates that two or more people share the position. The boxes (if used) may contain as much text or information as needed. You may notice that in some organizational charts, the lines of the rectangular boxes are dashed rather than continuous. This means that the position is open and is yet to be filled.

Solid lines between boxes indicate direct relationships. Dashed lines denote an indirect relationship between positions or departments.

Reading an org chart

There are high level organizational charts showing the main divisions or departments as well as more specific ones with job titles or positions. It is quite simple to understand an organizational chart. Continue reading to find out how.

  1. Read the title. The title of the chart tells you which department or section the organizational chart is all about.
  2. Start by looking at the top most block. The first or highest block from the top is the person who has the most responsibility in a department or division. Usually, he is everyone’s boss in the company or in a department.
  3. Look at the next level. The second level shows the persons or departments that directly report to the person or department in the first block. Usually, this is the level of management. The blocks on the same level normally indicate peers. A few of the job titles you can find on this level are vice president, associate vice president, department head, manager or even supervisor. It all depends what level of the company is pictured on the org chart.
  4. Check the next level. Further down the line are the next levels of management or staff positions. These are the members of the company who report directly to the previous level. Expect to find job titles like assistant manager, team leader, coordinator to name a few.
  5. Look at the last level. The succeeding levels are usually staff positions. Again, this will depend on how detailed the org chart is or from what position/level the organizational chart started from.

The organizational chart depicts the power structure in any organization. It is an important tool to show the interrelationships of positions and departments. Org charts should clearly show “who is responsible for what in an organization.”  The Human resources department normally handles any updates or modifications to this type of chart.


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