Org 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 the decisions and the control flows down. Does this sound accurate to you?
While this is accurate, it doesn’t promote a healthy frame of thinking for employees at any level. It promotes the idea that to progress 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.
The upside-down organisation chart promotes the idea of growing strong enough to get behind and support others, rather than climbing up over them.
An example of this in practice is the Australian supermarket giant Coles, that instead of having a ‘Headquarters’, have a ‘Store Support Center’. Everyone’s job in the support center isn’t to control and direct the hundreds of stores, but rather to support the stores, so that each can then better support customers in their grocery shopping.
So, how does it work?
Let’s use a hypothetical. Suppose you’re launching an exciting new company. First there is just you, but you work hard work and you get your first customers!
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 then how to share a portion of the extra money you’re helping them make/save!)
Add a Product
Some time later your workload has increased and you have a great idea. Use tech to help support even more customers. And so you introduce a product into the market.
With the upside-down org chart you can see that your product is now supporting many of your customers, and your job is to support your product. 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 decide you need to hire a team!
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 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.
You don’t have to be in “upper management” to gain a fresh perspective from an upside-down org chart, and it doesn’t have to be an official chart as long as you can visualise how it works.
Great managers at any level are those that support their team, and push them higher! Great contributors also know that it’s their managers responsibility to support them, and communicate how they can be better supported.
To progress down the chart, release direct control, and become stronger in supporting those above you.