Organizational charts matter. They aren’t the final answer to the question of “how effective are we?” But they are an important component of that answer.
When we don’t communicate based on the organizational chart, we risk problems.
Take, for instance, a Dean of a college engaging the Foundation CEO regularly instead of her gift officer.
Or take a Board member questioning the Vice President for Advancement about a particular report, instead of the asking the President.
Or take one Vice President asking for data from a director who reports to another Vice President.
Or take a University President asking an Associate Director for information and not informing the Vice President who reports to him.
Each of these is an example of “diagonal communications.” And each is a problem.
“But, Jason,” you might say, “you don’t understand. We operate in a very informal way in which everyone matters. We streamline communications because its more efficient. We aren’t hierarchical!”
And, in my experience, you also have more moments of frustration, confusion, and missed opportunities than you can count.
Diagonal communications are almost never a problem in the moment. They makes sense. “Yes, she reports up through another division, but I’ll just email Jennifer because she’ll have the answer. . .”
The problems arise when the question or issue is bigger than one email or phone call. When more people are involved, hierarchy matters. Hierarchy matters not because hierarchy itself is important. It matters because of the people involved. Hierarchy encourages us to recognize and honor people and their roles.
If you are an advancement or institutional leader, make a rule: No diagonal communications. Follow the hierarchy on the organizational chart.
You will be glad you did.