Organisation charts are hierarchical diagrams usually showing “upper management” at the top and then branching down to their direct reports, and so on. The CEO/boss makes all the big decisions and the control flows down. Does this sound right to you?

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Classic org chart

While this is perfectly accurate, it doesn’t promote a healthy frame of thinking for employees at any level. It promotes the idea that to grow you have to climb on top of others, rather than to support others.

This is where the upside-down organisational chart comes in. It flips the frame of reference. All employees sit above the CEO/boss! With this view it’s also possible to add customers (who sit at the very top), and products into the chart to show the full hierarchy of support.

An example of this in practice is the Australian supermarket giant Coles, that instead of having a ‘Headquarters’, have a ‘Store Support Center’. This implies that everyone’s job in the support center isn’t to oversee and direct the hundreds of supermarkets (to sell more), but rather to support the stores, so that each can then better support customers in their grocery shopping (to buy more).

So, how does it work?

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Am I doing it right?

Let’s say for example, you’re launching an exciting new company. So first there is just you. But then, as a result of your hard work, there is you and some customers!

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In this view, you are supporting your customers directly. You’re not working out how to extract value from them, you are working out how to best support them. (And how to catch some of all that extra money you’re helping them make/save!)

Add a Product

In time, you work out how you could introduce a product into the market for these customers.

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You can see now that although you support your product, your product is then supporting your customers. You’ve moved down! 👏

Add a Team

Ok, so your customers are really appreciating the support they’ve been receiving in helping to get their jobs done, and business is growing. You need to hire a team!

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In this view, you can see that your main concern is not supporting your customers anymore, it’s actually supporting your team! I’ve written about this before in a previous post titled What I’ve learnt after a year founding a tech company.

While this is overly simplistic, it can go on to contain as much detail about people and various departments as is useful.

Lastly, you don’t have to be in “upper management” to gain a fresh perspective from an upside-down org chart. It also doesn’t even have to be an official chart — as long as it lives in your head, you can can benefit from the ideas behind it.

If you have a few direct reports, instead of thinking of them as under you, think of yourself as supporting them, or better yet, as lifting them up — and aim to grow strong enough to do so.

And don’t be intimidated by your own managers/boss. It’s not your job to support them, it’s their job to support you. If you have needs, just ask.

Written by

Software Engineer sharing my understandings of why people do the things that they do to stimulate more incredible products.

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