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Creating organizational charts: How-tos, templates, and tips

Visualize your team’s hierarchical structure with an org chart. Understand how each role fits into the larger picture with collaborative whiteboard tools and creative design elements from Canva’s free online organizational chart maker.
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What is an organizational chart?

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.

Organizational chart example.

A brief history

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.

Components of organizational charts

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:

Text boxes

The text boxes in an org chart represent its entities. Text boxes are used to:

  • Represent people, functions, or departments.
  • Have photos, text, names, descriptions, logos, or avatars to help visualize the entity.
  • Have different shapes and colors to define the differences between the entities.
  • Usually have the same size and equal spacing.
  • Include hyperlinks to point to more information.
Maximize space in your chart
Use a mix of horizontal and vertical text boxes to fit more into your chart. Group people with the same title into the same box. Space boxes evenly and ensure text box sizes are consistent.
Text box on an organizational chart

Text box on an organizational chart.

Arrows and lines

Arrows or lines are used to depict the relationships between the entities represented by the text boxes.

Arrows or lines typically:

  • Indicate the flow of authority, accountability, and communication. Authority typically flows top-down. While accountability flows from the bottom up, and communication flows both ways.
  • Can be horizontal or vertical.
  • Can be dotted or solid. A supervisory-subordinate relationship typically uses solid lines, where the entity at the top of the solid line is the permanent supervisor for the entities underneath (e.g. a manager and their subordinates). A partial supervisory relationship is typically dotted to indicate a temporary relationship. On the other hand, in an advisory relationship, a dotted line denotes that the entities offer advice to each other. For example, the relationship between the legal and the finance teams within a company.
Arrows and lines on an organizational chart

Arrows and lines on an organizational chart.

What are the different types of organizational charts, and when should they be used?

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:

Be mindful of text formatting
When naming an entity, insert its title first, then its name. If it has more than one title, write them in separate boxes. Consider hyperlinks instead of overloading text with information.

Management Org Chart Template
This hierarchical organizational chart sample uses a structure where the CEO is at the top of the hierarchy, followed by a board of directors, then a COO and different administrative units.

Why should organizations be encouraged to have an organizational chart?

Organizations can reap several benefits from org charts, the top one being effective communication. Why are organizational charts important? Read on to find out:

Communicating and understanding management structure

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.

Restructuring organizational structure

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.

Preview of drag and drop feature on organizational charts.

Resource and workforce planning

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.

Employee reference and directory

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.

Canva for Teams
Share your org chart to your organization by storing it in your team folder in Canva. With easy access, teams can use it as a resource for planning, assessments, and other processes.
Preview of editable text boxes.

Preview of editable text boxes.

Limitations of an organizational chart

When making an organizational chart, keep these limitations in mind:

  • Org charts only show formal relationships: To showcase a linear structure or hierarchy in an organization, a traditional org chart is the go-to. But, they often only show formal relationships or a top-down chain of command. To map out complex and detailed org structures, create an organigraph instead.
  • Easily outdated: As the members, roles, or structures of an organization change, the need for updating them increases. Prepare for these changes by using an online org chart maker that lets you edit the same chart design with ease and efficiency.
  • Won’t show management style: As a visual tool, traditional org charts will only show a linear, top-down structure. To show the management styles of different members, create an interactive org chart that redirects users to your org’s knowledge base.

Who uses an organizational chart?

Organizations big and small create organizational charts for different reasons. Within an organization, they're typically used by the following entities:

  • HR department: Org charts are usually used by the HR department to keep track of the departments, employees, and reporting relationships within an organization.
  • New and existing employees: New and existing employees can use org charts to understand who they report to, who reports to them, and who's the responsible entity to reach out to when they need help.
  • Managers: Managers also use org charts to visualize the management structure and identify gaps in reporting relationships within the organization.
  • Executives: Executives typically use org charts to keep track of the organizational structure, as well as to communicate the structure to external stakeholders and third parties effectively.

How to make an organizational chart

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.

How to make an organizational chart.

Get inspired with organizational chart templates

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.

All you need in an organizational chart maker

Visualize your company’s or organization’s structure and hierarchy with ease and finesse with all the whiteboard features on the same platform that you know and love.

  • Unlimited space for unlimited ideas

    Unlimited space for unlimited ideas

    With a free infinite canvas and unlimited number of whiteboards, fully develop your ideas and still have room.

  • Your ideas visualized

    Your ideas visualized

    Build stunning tables and graphs with automatic flowcharts, or sketch them to life with Draw.

  • All your work, in one place

    All your work, in one place

    From plan to execution, it’s all here. Take notes, brainstorm, collaborate, and more on the same whiteboard.

  • Workshop ideas to perfection

    Workshop ideas to perfection

    With your team, develop ideas through comments and stickies, and keep sync sessions on track with a timer.

  • Share your work effortlessly

    Share your work effortlessly

    Share a link to your doc and control your team's access. Present directly from the editor with Presenter view.

  • Expand your Presentation to a Whiteboard

    Expand your Presentation to a Whiteboard

    With just a single click, expand your presentation slides into infinite, collaborative whiteboards.

Organizational charts best practices

You can create an easy-to-read, visually appealing, and functional organizational chart by following the best practices below:

Use an online org chart maker

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:

  • Can easily be linked to external sources of information,
  • Are easily shareable,
  • Offer powerful visualization opportunities,
  • Can ensure effective collaboration in real-time, and
  • You can also find and create creative org charts that create a separate brand identity for your organization.
Collaboration and sharing features for organizational charts.

Collaboration and sharing features for organizational charts.

Ensure that the organizational chart maker that you use has the following features:

  • Intuitive and user-friendly interface
  • Free organizational chart templates to jumpstart your process
  • Thousands of pictures, animations, icons, and elements to choose from
  • Ability to create and add your branding to make the org chart personalized
  • Easy drag and drop options along with the ability to apply changes to the chart in bulk
  • Downloadable and shareable across different formats
  • Real-time collaboration and change-tracking functions
  • Created using the non-designer in mind

Divide and conquer

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.

Make groupings sensible

When creating org charts, ensure that the groupings you create are sensible. To do so:

  • Differentiate and aggregate entity groups based on their roles, departments, levels, or functional units. This ensures that the connections between entities are understandable to the viewer. Groupings can be based on job function, geography, project or program, customer or client, or mix of any of these.
  • Add pertinent information such as images, avatars, hyperlinks, and color codes.

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