Planning your Future Org Chart

A.T. Gimbel shares a few tips on how you can plan ahead for your future org chart.

A.T. Gimbel
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May 4, 2021

How to structure your team with spans and layers

I was speaking with an entrepreneur the other day who was starting to scale and trying to think ahead about what their org chart should look like. One of the frameworks I find helpful in thinking through that discussion is the concept of spans and layers.

What are spans and layers

Spans of control are the number of direct reports an individual has. Layers are the number of levels down from the CEO. In Example 1 below, the CEO has a span of four (four direct reports) and there are two layers down from the CEO.

In Example 2 below, the CEO has a span of two and there are four layers down from the CEO.

What to do with spans

With spans, it does vary based on function, experience/capability, etc. but you want to avoid having leaders with too low a span (1-2 direct reports) or too many (7+).  With too few a span, you add layers (see below) to the org chart. With too large a span, you can overwhelm that leader and not give enough support to their direct reports. As a startup you may have a smaller span at first but want to have a plan to get to the right span for a given role. A player/coach would have a smaller span than a coach. There are scenarios where a junior role leading for the first time might start with a small span, but the vision should be that span expands over time. More experienced leaders may be able to handle 5-7 direct reports.

What to do with layers

With layers, ideally you want as few layers as possible down from the CEO. The reason being that each layer adds more bureaucracy, it’s harder for info to travel (think the old telephone game you played as a kid), the more disconnected employees can feel from the top, etc.  A flatter hierarchy creates better information flow, more direct communication, and quicker action. In the startup world, speed is critical so don’t slow your team down by designing an org chart with too many layers. Obviously as you continue to scale there will inevitably be more layers, but the goal is to minimize the number of layers by having the right spans in place.

There are many more factors to consider when planning an org chart including needed roles, employee skills/abilities/values, culture, etc. but the spans and layers framework is one view I have found helpful in designing your team.

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