An organizational chart (also called org chart, organigram, or organizational breakdown structure) visualizes a company's hierarchy or structure. It is a diagram comprised of simple text boxes containing names, roles, and functions and is connected with lines to illustrate reporting relationships.
Org charts are often used when beginning a project to help individuals understand their roles and relationships with other team members. They can be used by any organization—from small businesses and large corporations to government and military units.
In this guide, you will learn what organizational charts are, who uses them, the different types of org charts, how to create them, and best practices for making tailor-fitted org charts for your company or team. We’ll also share professionally designed org chart templates and examples you can quickly customize and freely edit on Canva.
Organizational chart example.
Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum has been attributed to be the first org chart creator since he created one in 1854. However, the term “organizational chart” only gained momentum in the 20th century when Willard C. Brinton (an engineer, businessperson, and information visualization pioneer) declared that org charts are not as widely used as they should be.
Now, org charts are typically used to communicate the organizational structure to internal and external teams, to facilitate a better restructuring of roles, and for planning workforce and resources efficiently. They have also found their way into less conventional areas of use, such as genealogy.
Organizational charts typically consist of a principal entity at the top, with the others below it to illustrate the relationship between them. An organizational flow chart typically uses the following two components:
The text boxes in an org chart represent its entities. Text boxes are used to:
Text box on an organizational chart.
Arrows or lines are used to depict the relationships between the entities represented by the text boxes.
Arrows or lines typically:
Arrows and lines on an organizational chart.
The type of org chart used by an organization depends on how it is structured. Perhaps your organization has a flat structure where everyone has the same responsibilities. Alternatively, your organization might have a structure where every entity is subordinate to another entity. Or, you might have a mix of both where there are no strict vertical business units and everyone reports to more than one supervisor.
Depending on your company’s chain of command, you can use one of the following types of organizational charts:
The vertical or hierarchical organizational chart follows a structure where each entity is subordinate to another. This means that one entity is at the top, followed by those with less authority beneath them, and so on. As this structure is prevalent among many organizations, it's the most commonly used type of org chart.
An example of a vertical organizational chart.
Visualization: Hierarchical org charts are typically visualized as a pyramid.
In a matrix organizational structure, individuals may report to multiple leaders or supervisors. This approach emphasizes cross-functional collaboration rather than vertical hierarchies and is particularly prevalent in project-based organizations.
Matrix organizational chart example.
Visualization: Matrix org charts are visualized as a rectangular matrix where
A horizontal or flat org chart is based on an organizational structure with little to no middle management. The only entities are the top-level administrators and the workers underneath them. This structure is more prevalent in small businesses and startups while still not being unheard of in larger organizations.
Flat organizational chart example.
Visualization: Flat org charts are visualized as follow
Organizations can reap several benefits from org charts, the top one being effective communication. Why are organizational charts important? Read on to find out:
Org charts serve as valuable tools for displaying an organization's management structure quickly and effectively. They reveal affiliate relationships between companies and the ownership structures and hierarchy within an organization.
This information enables managers to manage goals, improve communication between individuals, and develop strategies by identifying potential gaps in the structure. Additionally, org charts can aid potential investors in understanding how an organization operates.
An organizational chart is an effective tool that offers visual clarity when restructuring the organizational structure. It gives a visual outlook of the alternative ways your organization can be structured. It also helps employees in an organization understand how structural changes can impact them.
Preview of drag and drop feature on organizational charts.
Org charts have multiple uses beyond just displaying the hierarchy of a company. They can also serve as a helpful tool for resource and workforce planning. By visualizing how roles can be switched within teams, org charts allow for better utilization of everyone's unique talents.
Additionally, org charts also assist organizations in identifying resource gaps, making it easier to understand what type of hiring and workforce planning is needed to fill those gaps.
An organizational chart can also serve as a useful employee reference and directory. It enables employees to comprehend their positions within the organization, identify their superiors and subordinates, and understand reporting relationships. Including photographs, addresses, and other pertinent information can transform the chart into a comprehensive employee directory.
Preview of editable text boxes.
When making an organizational chart, keep these limitations in mind:
Organizations big and small create organizational charts for different reasons. Within an organization, they're typically used by the following entities:
While you can easily use an organizational chart maker to create org charts, there are still some steps and considerations you need to follow when creating one.
The first step in the process of creating org charts is to decide and define the scope covered by the chart. These questions can help you get sorted.
Defining the scope by asking these questions can help you gather the right amount of information.
Once you have defined the scope of the chart and how it will be used, you can start gathering the required information, typically from your HR department. The information you collect must be up to date, and you might also need to add more information (such as headshots and hyperlinks to extra resources) depending on the scope that you have defined.
Several org chart maker tools are available in this day and time. While the old-school concept of drawing out the chart by hand might seem alluring at first, it is not an efficient solution and can prove to be difficult to share and update. A simple search for an organizational chart template is useful in determining and finalizing the tool that you can use to create the chart.
No matter what tool you use, an organizational chart typically consists of rectangular boxes to denote the entities, lines to show the relationship between the entities, and additional details that might be used to add more information.
After deciding on the tool, start from the top level and move down the chart. The first entity is usually the easiest to fill out. Work downward by adding additional positions and relationships as needed. The number of levels depends on the scope of your chart, as well as the supervisory relationships that exist in your organization. Depending on the scope, you might also need to break down a cumbersome, large chart into smaller linked charts.
If you're creating your organizational chart as an employee directory, you might need to add additional details such as headshots, external hyperlinks, or addresses and positions to your entities.
Do all these without switching apps. Upload your team’s images and company logos with ease right into your canvas. Drag and drop your images into your org chart design. Then, edit your photos with our free online photo editor, and give your org chart photos a more cohesive look.
An org chart is only useful if it has the most recent, correct information. Resources constantly join or leave an organization, and with potential changes to the structure, it's crucial to establish a routine schedule for updating the chart. This ensures that any recent changes are reflected accurately in the chart.
Time to update your org chart? Go back to the drawing board with ease as your org chart designs are autosaved into your Canva account. Quickly update your org chart details while keeping the same stunning org chart design you’ve created. Then, readily export them as PDF, PNG, or JPEG files. Or, get ready and present your updated org chart right from your dashboard.
Start with pre-built, professionally designed templates and examples to level up your organizational charts. Create and collaborate on the same platform, in real-time, and on any device.
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You can create an easy-to-read, visually appealing, and functional organizational chart by following the best practices below:
Gone are the days when org charts used to be drawn by hand and shared as an image to employees and external stakeholders. In this modern era of digital connectivity, organizational charts are best drawn online for easy creation and updates.
Online org charts:
Collaboration and sharing features for organizational charts.
Ensure that the organizational chart maker that you use has the following features:
An organizational chart is only effective if its visualization isn't too complex. A huge org chart that requires a lot of scrolling can have quite the opposite effect by becoming overwhelming.
If your organizational chart tends to become larger, it is better to split it down into multiple charts, each of which fits on a single page. For example, you can create one chart that gives an overview of the organizational structure, and create multiple smaller charts to take a deeper dive into each of the departments.
When creating org charts, ensure that the groupings you create are sensible. To do so:
The best and easiest program to use for creating organizational charts is an online org chart maker like Canva Whiteboards. Bring your ideas together with its infinite canvas, intuitive drag-and-drop features, sticky notes, and special whiteboard graphics.
An organizational structure is a relationship between the members of an organization or team. Ideally, it's first defined to establish accountability, workflows, and working relationships within an organization. On the other hand, an organizational chart is a visual representation of the structure or hierarchy within an organization, company, or team.
An organizational chart is a visual representation of an organization’s structure and will typically show a linear hierarchy or chain of command of the members within the organization. An organigraph is also a graphic representation of an organization’s structure and hierarchy. However, organigraphs are more detailed in mapping the relationships, structure, and associations between members, teams, and departments in an organization.
Traditional org charts use text boxes and arrows to showcase relationships or hierarchy. While organigraphs use a combination of text, charts, drawings, images, and arrows to show the complex and often overlapping relationships between different entities in an organization.