Does your organization need a chart?

Jun 25, 2023

Tom Godin


An org chart can be an invaluable tool for your business because it provides clarity and communicate roles.

First things first. The “org chart” as we know it was – according to Wikipedia – created by the Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum in the 1800s. So, for a good part our industry’s history these things have been in our DNA. But are they relics of a time past or are they a useful tool?

Organization charts are useful, but not perfect tools. They:

  • Communicate who is who and who does what. If you’ve got any semblance of organization at your firm, there’s no downside in showing people what it is. A chart is particularly helpful to new people. It orients and informs, and should be a part of your standard onboarding package.
  • Show (or should show) “reporting relationships.” Who in the organization is responsible for the professional performance and development of another? Who is my boss? Who is my boss’s boss?
  • Bring the organization to life visually, and that can be useful to managers because they can literally see where there are experience gaps or missing roles.

At Zweig Group, we ask for organization charts as part of our standard request for information for most engagements. Some firms have them in their full glory. Some have charts that show the upper levels of management only. Some have boxes with names but without clear reporting structures. A few don’t have anything like them at all.

I’m curious, not judgmental, so I ask about it. Explanations for these structures, or lack thereof, include:

  • “Everyone works with everyone else here.”
  • “I don’t want to put people into a box. (Literally and figuratively.) We’re not big on titles and hierarchies.”
  • “We’re a flat organization. We don’t really need one.”
  • “I can’t decide on the right font.”

An org chart will never be able to capture the web of complex relationships that exist in an organization. Those relationships can be lateral, and they can be informal. If you’re asking an org chart to do that work for you, you’ll be disappointed. Putting a name and a title in a box underneath or beside another box with a name and title in it doesn’t communicate anything other than information that is probably published someplace else already.

I’m most concerned when I see an org chart with vague or non-existent lines of direct report – when I can’t tell who works for who.

We hear about “accountability” all the time. “We need to hold our PMs more accountable.” “There’s no accountability at the principal level.”

Accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Usually when we talk about it, we mean “someone isn’t doing something I want them to do, and they need to start doing it or else.” Everyone wants accountability, but fewer want to do the accounting. And fewer recognize their own accountability for creating a culture of accountability.

Mark Zweig – our chairman – wrote an article on this topic last year. Accountability is about the right person, the right culture, and the right reward system. Please take a minute to read his piece.

If the lines of direct report aren’t clear – on your firm’s org chart or in practice – ask yourself:

  • Who is responsible for doing the hard work of creating a culture of accountability and transmitting that culture to each person?
  • Who is responsible for providing the best tools and the right training and guidance to each person so that they can do their best work?
  • Is it clear who does accounting here? Our survey data consistently shows that “addressing subpar performance” is a major weak spot for most firms. Could it be that it’s unclear who should be addressing it, on a person-by-person basis?

Everyone should have a supervisor and an org chart can be an invaluable tool for your businesses. They provide clarity and communicate roles. But if your org chart isn’t rendered in Arial or Helvetica font, nothing really matters. For help choosing the right font, advice on integrating pop culture references into your writing, or if you’d like to talk through accountability or organizational issues at your firm, you can reach me at

Tom Godin is a director of strategic planning at Zweig Group. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.