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What is an org chart and how to create one

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Organizational charts are powerful tools for simplifying complex structures. This guide will help you understand their meaning, structure and how to create one from scratch or from a template.

12 minute read

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What is an Org Chart?

An organizational chart shows the internal structure of an organization or company. The employees and positions are represented by boxes or other shapes, sometimes including photos, contact information, email and page links, icons and illustrations. Straight or elbowed lines link the levels together.  With our org chart software, this creates a clear visual depiction of the hierarchy and ranks of different people, jobs, and departments that make up the organization.

Types of organizational charts

What is an organizational chart's best format? Depending on your needs and the type of organization, you may want to choose a less traditional org chart format. There are three main types of org charts:  hierarchical, matrix and flat.

  • Hierarchical Org Chart: This is the most common type, and it gives rise to the synonym Hierarchy Chart. A hierarchy is where one group or person is at the top, while those with less power are beneath them, in the shape of a pyramid. Think of a monarchy with a king or queen at the top, or an organization with the CEO at the top. With a hierarchy, members typically communicate with the person they report to and anyone who reports directly to them.

  • Matrix Org Chart:  This is usually only seen when individuals have more than one manager. For example, an organization could have a team of graphic designers who all report to the head graphic designer. The graphic designers are also working on other projects that are likely headed by a separate project manager. In this case, the graphic designers will have two managers.

 
  • Flat Org Chart: This type, sometimes referred to as a Horizontal Org Chart, has little or no levels of middle management and typically consists of two levels:  the top administrators and the workers. In companies like this, the workers have more responsibility and are more directly involved in decision-making.

Relationships in the charts are sometimes called line relationships (or chain of command), depicting supervisor to subordinate, and lateral relationships, showing people on the same level. With line relationships, you might have solid lines, showing the main lines of authority, or dotted lines, showing secondary lines of authority. There are no hard and fast rules in the symbols and lines used in org charts, as long as the formal relationships are made clear.

Pros and cons of different organization types

The types of organizations reflected in these chart types have advantages and disadvantages.  In a nutshell:

  • In a hierarchical, vertical, top-down organization, lines of authority and communication should be clear. In its purest form, think of the military. In the business world, think of the chief executive and other C-suite executives, working down to perhaps directors, senior managers, middle managers, team leaders and team members. If the strength of this structure is clarity and stability, the potential weakness is rigidity, the inability to be flexible when called for. The management layers can sometimes bloat an organization as well.

  • In a matrixed organization, cross-department relationships may be more fruitful and cooperative. However, having more than one person or department to answer to can also create confusing loyalties or conflicts of interest for employees.

  • In a flat, horizontal structure, most layers of management are cut out, with close relationships between the top and the employees. This is common in smaller companies and organizations, but it’s generally not practical for larger organizations. Employees may feel a stronger sense of teamwork and autonomy, though conflicts among employees can become more pronounced due to fewer people doing the work.

Uses of org charts

What is the best use for an organizational chart? No matter which layout you choose to use, Org Charts are useful for laying out relationships in your organization and ensuring that everyone knows how to communicate essential information.

You can use org charts for:

  • Organizational and supervisory communication,  such as helping employees know who reports to whom, or helping people get to know each other across the organization. Adding employee photos can help a lot, allow people to connect faces and names.

  • Restructuring, such as switching roles in a team to better utilize everyone’s talents.

  • Workforce planning, such as figuring out the details of a new hiring initiative.

  • Resource planning, such as reducing inefficiencies by rearranging roles.

  • Genealogy, because a family tree is really just a type of Org Chart. You can include photos, dates of birth and death and links to other information about each person.

Getting more visual with organizational charts

There are few rules with org charts, so any visual elements that help to communicate are fair game.

  • Using photos can help people get to know each and connect names and faces.
  • Using different shapes and/or colors can help to define different departments, work groups, job levels or other useful breakdowns.

  • Using company logos or icons can customize your chart to your organization’s feel.

  • Using animations in PowerPoint can help bring a presentation to life as you talk about the chart’s different parts.

  • Using 3D shapes can make your chart more appealing as it pops from the page.

Org Chart Diagram Template (Click on image to modify online)

Limitations of org charts

  • They can quickly become out of date, especially in organizations with a large amount of turnover. Online charts are easier to update than printed ones, but even online charts can become outdated if not tended to regularly. This can be mitigated with editable online documents, as well as automation, such as employee departures and arrivals triggering Org Chart updates.
  • They show only formal relationships, and not the informal or social relationships that help to get things done in an organization. To show informal relationships that exist in an organization, you might want to consider making an account map, which you can learn more about here

  • They don’t reflect management style. They show lines of authority, but not how that authority is exercised.

  • Organigraphs, the close relative of org charts, might be more useful if your purpose to illustrate or discover other associations among people or departments.

Diagramming is quick and easy with Lucidchart. Start a free trial today to start creating and collaborating.

Make an org chart

How to plan and draw a basic organizational chart

  1. Define your purpose and scope. For example, do you intend your chart to be a “who’s who” resource? You might want to include photos and contact info, including email links. Are you charting your whole company, or maybe just department or work group. Might it be more than one chart? Think about what is most useful for your purposes.
  2. Gather the information. You might find an existing list of employees on which to base your chart, or an outdated Org Chart that still might be a helpful starting point. Remember to gather contact info, photos and whatever else you might plan to use. You might need to find other resources to clarify the lines of authority and spell them out for your chart.

  3. Determine what platform you plan to use to build your chart, and how you plan to display it. Lucidchart provides a powerful, easy-to-use platform to build and display charts online. (See more on Lucidchart below.)

  4. Plan for ongoing updates to the chart. Remember, things change quickly in many organizations, so you’ll need a way to efficiently keep the chart or charts up to date. That’s a lot easier with a collaborative online platform like Lucidchart.

Create an org chart

To get started, sign up for a free Lucidchart account without any commitments. Once you have created an account, open up a blank document to get started.

Enable shape libraries

In a new Blank Diagram, the first thing you will need to do is enable the “Org Charts” shape library. To do this, click on the “+ Shapes” button on the left side of your screen, and make sure “Org Charts” is checked.

 

Organizational charts are intended to organize and manage hierarchies within companies, institutions, departments, and even families. By creating an org chart, organizational structure will be more clear, providing more efficiency from within.

1. Organize your content

Each shape in an org chart represents a person in a complex system, so the first step will be identifying who the people are. We recommend starting from the top of the organization and working down. For instance, start with the CEO and write down everyone who reports to them. Continue exploring the organizational structure until you can create your organizational chart with everyone in mind.

2. Add shapes and draw lines

The most basic way to develop your organizational chart is to manually add org chart shapes to the Lucidchart canvas. Drag and drop the org chart shape from the left menu. Once you select the org chart group, the org chart editing panel will appear on the left of the canvas, replacing the toolbox. You can add additional shapes by clicking the red “+” buttons around the existing shapes or by typing additional names in the editing panel. Drag and drop shapes to adjust the organization.

3. Add information to shapes

After adding a shape you can manage the information included in each org chart shape by clicking “Shapes” from the top of the org chart editing panel or using the employee options bar that appears at the top of the canvas. From there you can adjust the shape style or add new employee fields or photos. Click “Layout” to adjust the org chart structure.

How to automate an org chart with data import

For a more robust experience, importing the information that you want may be the better option than creating your organizational chart manually. Lucidchart has built-in functionality to build your organizational chart automatically which can save you a lot of time.

Please note that the Data Import feature is only available for paid accounts.

Organize the data in a spreadsheet

To create your org chart automatically, first organize your information in a spreadsheet with the desired information. Be sure to save the file as a CSV. Here are some of the fields you may consider including:

  • Name

  • Employee ID

  • Department

  • Job Title

  • Phone

  • Email

  • Reports To

Import the data into Lucidchart

Once you have created the spreadsheet you can import the data into Lucidchart by clicking on the “Import Data” button located under the Org Chart shapes on the left side of your screen.

Then, follow the prompts to create your org chart. Lucidchart will automatically import and organize the data from your CSV, Google Sheet, or Excel file, saving you time and energy!

If you need some additional help, read our explanation on importing and formatting data for org charts in Lucidchart.

How to format an org chart

To make your org chart more visually appealing, play around with different fonts, sizes, and colors. Completely customize your org chart by clicking on any shape and then changing the properties of the shape in the upper menu. (Tip: You can also click and drag to select multiple shapes and then edit them simultaneously!)

If you prefer to standardize the styling of your shapes instead, start by styling one shape exactly how you want it. Then, you can easily apply the same formatting to the rest of your diagram by clicking “Set Default Shape Style” at the top of the editor. Any additional shapes you add will be formatted according to this default style. 

To adjust the spacing and layout of your org chart elements, click “Layout”—this is located on the left-hand side of the editor in the org chart data panel. (If you don’t see the data panel, simply double-click one of your shapes to open it.)

By clicking “Shapes,” also found in the org chart data panel, you can add additional data fields to your shapes, toggle employee pictures on and off, and change the style of each shape. Any additional data fields that you add will be populated by filler text—to edit them, just double-click on the text you wish to change.

Get more from your org charts

Though org charts are primarily used to visualize hierarchy, they often contain far more than just hierarchical information. Org charts can be a great place to store employee-specific details—like phone number, location, or scrum team—but you need a good way to access and visualize that information. This is where Lucidchart’s group view comes in.

With group view, you can arrange your org chart based on non-hierarchical factors. You can, for example, choose to view members of your organization by team, location, or supervisor ID. Lucidchart helps you visualize this information by generating a new, easy-to-understand diagram from your org chart—this new diagram is arranged not by hierarchy, but by a criterion of your choosing. 

To use group view, follow the steps below:

  1. Open the org chart data panel by double-clicking on a shape in your org chart. 
  2. Click “Layout” and select “Create Group View” from the dropdown menu. 
  3. Click “Choose Field.” From the dropdown list, select the data point that you want to focus on.
  4. Click “Create Group View,” and you’re all set! 

Lucidchart automatically creates a new diagram—located on a new tab—arranged according to the field you selected (location, for example).

Still have questions about group view? Watch our step-by-step video tutorial here.

Org chart Templates and Examples

Blank org chart template

Sometimes you just need to start from scratch. With our blank org chart template, you can customize your visual to fit your group better. Just click any box, and a dialog will appear where you can enter names, titles, phone numbers, and other information you may need.

Hierarchical org chart template

The hierarchical org chart template connects employees to their supervisors, starting with one individual at the top, typically the CEO or another leadership position. Depending on who reports to whom, you’ll likely break this org chart down by department.

Matrix org chart template

The traditional org chart structure doesn’t work for every company, particularly when teams in different departments need to work together. Structured like a grid, the matrix org chart shows teams and reporting relationships that form for special projects.

Business org chart template

Whether you have just restructured your business or hired a large group of new employees, you can use an organizational chart to make sure every employee understands how he or she fits into the larger picture. Customize our business org chart template and store it in Confluence, Google Drive, or another integrated platform.

 


Want to make an org chart of your own? Try Lucidchart. It's quick, easy, and completely free.