What is an Organizational Chart?

Cathy Rogers

An organizational chart is a diagram that depicts the structure of an organization in terms of relationships among personnel or departments. This type of chart also represents lines of authority and responsibility. Generally, an organizational chart is a horizontal or vertical tree that contains geometric shapes to represent staff or divisions. The lines that connect the shapes indicate relationships between the positions. The chart indicates the formal structure of a business or company.

An organizational chart defines relationships between employees and managers.
An organizational chart defines relationships between employees and managers.

Most often, a rectangle represents a person, position, or department. In a hierarchical chart, the Chief Officer or President is the top rectangle. The level underneath the chief officer contains high-level managers or executives, and each succeeding level includes the subordinates of the line above.

A flat organizational structure has few managers between the chief executive officer or president and the lowest-level employees.
A flat organizational structure has few managers between the chief executive officer or president and the lowest-level employees.

In standard organizational charts, the shape is similar to a pyramid. Often, box size is relative to the authority level of the position; for example, an executive position may have a larger rectangle than a subordinate position. Peers generally have boxes of similar size on the chart. Lateral positions on the chart indicate a relationship between departments on the same level of hierarchy in the organization.

In a standard organizational chart, solid lines depict a formal and direct relationship between positions. A double linked rectangle might indicate a situation with co-supervisors. A dashed line indicates an advisory or indirect relationship between positions, while arrows indicate the flow of communication. To indicate job sharing or dual responsibilities, a divided box might be used. An open position is sometimes represented by a dashed border surrounding a rectangle, or a box containing either TBH (to be hired) or TBD (to be determined).

Because in a large company, the organizational chart can be space-intensive and complex, smaller charts may be utilized to represent individual departments. Other common space-saving techniques used in these charts include a staggered tree method, a columnar stack, or a list style which provides names or job titles rather than boxes. To avoid the frequent need to update the chart, you might use position titles rather than the names of individual staff. Due to the changes in organizational structure, an organizational chart is not always up to date.

To create an organizational chart, you can use software such as Visio, or specialized software such as SmartDraw or OrgPlus. Microsoft Word has a Diagram Gallery to create such a chart, and Microsoft PowerPoint and Publisher have similar capabilities. The use of software to create a chart makes revisions and additions simple.

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Discussion Comments


Thank you for the explanation. I have found that the most frequent problem with org chart's is that they are never current and always out of date.


Business organizational charts might seem like a waste of time -- why would you need to summarize the structure? But it actually can help productivity if workers use it to understand how the company works and therefore use it to eliminate inefficiencies.


Sharing staff organizational charts are super helpful to new employees. It gets them acquainted with how the company functions and let's them fit in better with that structure knowingly rather than feeling their way into it blindly.


One would think that an org chart would be clear and straightforward, but I've seen quite a few that are confusing - full of dotted lines indicating one person who reports to multiple people, and the like. I've also never understood the tendency to either (a) hide the organizational chart, or (b) present the chart at a big meeting to reveal promotions or other organizational changes. I've had jobs where they refused to publish the org chart because there was some sort of fear about knowing the status of some people in certain departments and how they were in relation to others. This type of information hoarding is rarely a good thing.

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