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Accountability Charts vs. Org Charts: A Primer

Learn about the similarities and differences of org charts and accountability charts, and how they can benefit your company.

How individuals are organized around work and responsibilities matters greatly for any organization. In fact, in a Deloitte survey of corporate business leaders, 92 percent named organizational structure and design as one of the most important business priorities they face.

There are many ways to illustrate organizational structure, but perhaps two of the most common are organizational charts and accountability charts. How are they different? An organizational chart, or org chart, shows reporting relationships, employee names and titles, and organizational hierarchy. On the other hand, an accountability chart describes the ownership of work, showing what individuals and teams do relative to each other.

Not only do the two types of chart explain the organization and its people in very different ways, but they also differ in how they are used and the amount of value they offer to the organization. Here is a primer on accountability charts vs. org charts:

Org Charts

Org chart has traditionally been a catch-all phrase used to describe any visual representation of organization structure. In the past, org charts were largely HR tools designed to explain the number of levels leading up to the CEO. According to Jacob Morgan, author of the book The Future of Work, the traditional hierarchical structure of an org chart has, “permeated virtually every company around the world regardless of size, industry, or location.” In fact, when people think about org charts, they typically think of charts that depict a functional or departmental head with direct reports falling underneath. Org charts also serve as a decision-making tool for management and are often used to justify adding to the organizational headcount or to determine the number of direct reports a manager should have.

With the aid of technology, the org chart has evolved into a living, strategic business tool that syncs with other talent management platforms, provides employees with more information about how they fit into organizational structure, and supports workforce planning. A modern live org chart can be configured into the form of an accountability chart, showing who the key decision makers are and displaying team responsibilities, while still providing the more traditional org chart components.

In a Deloitte survey of corporate business leaders, 92 percent named organizational structure and design as one of the most important business priorities they face.

Accountability Charts

Accountability charts go beyond traditional org charts by showing much more than names inside boxes connected by lines. Accountability charts provide more clarity around responsibilities and also show how people and teams are organized according to geography, function, product, or customer type. A key component of an accountability chart is the greater detail it provides about responsibilities and outcomes.

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Employee names, titles, and locations can all be featured on an accountability chart, but there is a greater focus on the work and who does what. For example, on an accountability chart, the leadership position for a particular group indicates who is responsible for setting goals and providing strategic direction; other positions on the team are also depicted—for example, those who might be responsible for key product areas or a specific project focus. An accountability chart might organize individuals into a hierarchy, but they can also be organized as a collection of interconnected teams, as in the case of Buffer, a start-up that moved to a horizontal structure organized around projects rather than reporting relationships.

An accountability chart offers a number of benefits, for example:

On the other hand, one challenge associated with accountability charts is that they can often feature a significant amount of information about employees and the roles they perform. Therefore, organizations working with accountability charts should provide resources such as directories and customized profiles that help employees learn more about each other and where they fit in an accountability chart.

Shared Characteristics of Accountability and Org Charts

Both live org charts and accountability charts have the potential to put more information into the hands of leaders, existing employees, and new hires. Some of the characteristics and outcomes they have in common include:

Ideally, any illustration of organizational structure should include clear reporting relationships and job titles, as well as descriptions of how work is performed and decisions are made. Modern technology brings the org chart to life and can help to explain team and individual accountabilities in ways that a traditional, static org chart can’t. Both accountability charts and live org charts can provide more information about who does what and how individuals and teams fit together, creating more opportunity for improved employee engagement, collaboration, and workforce planning.

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Cameron Nouri
by Cameron Nouri
I am the Director of Growth at Pingboard. I consider myself an entrepreneur at heart. I love trying new things and taking educated risks on new ventures, both professionally and in my personal life. I bring that passion to work everyday where I enjoy helping others discover the power that Pingboard can unlock.