Tips for mapping out your organisation for the first time

A work map is an evolving reference that visualises the different layers of relationships, responsibilities, and work within your organisation. As a common reference, it orients the whole team and boosts collaboration.

Overcome the blank canvas

With all its infinite possibilities, a blank canvas can feel overwhelming. Where to begin? What are you trying to achieve? Mapping your organisation to clarify relationships, roles, and responsibilities is no different; there’s art in cartography.

Going from nothing to something may feel intimidating, but with a few guidelines, it’s easy to map your organisation.

Why map

Organisations are constantly changing. Individuals come and go. Work adapts to a shifting market. Relationships are formed both formally (e.g. employee — manager) and informally (e.g. afterwork beers). With so much going on behind the scenes, it’s difficult to keep track of:

  • Who currently works with whom and on what?
  • Where is help needed?
  • Who has the authority to make what decision?
  • What exactly is our organisation working towards?
An organisational chart from 1930 mapping the League of Nations organisation. (Image : Martin Grandjean)

Who to involve

So, you’re ready to start mapping. But who should do all the mapping work? What options exist for who participates in drafting your map? We have observed a wide range of methods.

The mapping process can be done by a single cartographer or in a fully participatory way, where everyone contributes.

What to map

Now that you know who will be mapping, it’s time to add content to your work map. The goal is to condense work into roles that actively contribute to your organisation’s purpose. Be careful to describe roles that reflect the current reality — not an idealised future.

Defining roles

Start with the name. Try to make it obvious what the role achieves, like Speaker or Key Accounts Liaison. Next, provide a short description of the role’s purpose, answering the question “Why does this role exist?”. For example, the purpose of the Key Accounts Liasion might be: “Ensuring a smooth experience and continued success for our key clients.”

An example definition of a Speaker role, including its title, purpose, and responsibilities.

Assigning roles

Each person in your organisation can hold multiple roles. Roles can also have multiple role holders. After assigning people to roles, be sure to ask everyone to verify that their personal collection of roles (role portfolio) comprehensively represents their ongoing work.

Grouping roles

Now that you’ve mapped all roles, it’s time to add structure. Groups of roles help gather those who frequently work together. This speeds up communication and facilitates learning between peers with complementary expertise. When considering how to group roles, here are some ideas:

  1. Functionally group roles into themes or topics. For example, all roles having to do with internal or external communication could be gathered into the Communications group. Although functional splits are how organigrams represent teams, they usually result in information silos. By contrast, a work map allows a single person to hold multiple roles across groups, so that information can flow freely throught the organisation. This breaks down silos and fosters an interconnected network of teams.
  2. Group roles together using a shared service or hub-spoke structure. Here, the organisation is split into small groups of operational roles which directly serve the core business and market, and second group of supporting roles who are at the shared service of the operational teams. For example, Loyco, a HR, insurance and risk management organisation in Switzerland organises this way.
The BetaCodex structure groups shared service roles in the centre and operational or project teams at the periphery. This is one of many models you can use to group your roles. Image credit to BetaCodex.

How to map

The process of creating your map is closely intertwined who you involve and what content you map. If you do not have enough information to create an accurate map, consider participatory exercises that assemble role descriptions from the whole team.

Your map will be under constant evolution, so don’t be afraid to define a time limit, publish it early, and iteratively improve.

Set a time limit and publish

Remember that you are publishing a map that will remain under constant evolution. There is no perfect or finished product. As the terrain (work and people) evolves over time, you’ll need to update.

A real-world example from the NGO HEKS/EPER

HEKS/EPER “supports development cooperation projects to combat poverty and injustice and advocates for a life in dignity for all people”. They created a work map in a two stage process. First, they contacted one of our companions and collectively defined their roles and a grouping structure in a role workshop. A single person, holding an org-wide Secretary role, was responsible for transferring the textual descriptions from Excel into its visual representation. Continuous updates to the map are also communicated to this role, who updates the map accordingly.

Learn from the best

The best way to learn about mapping is to seek inspiration from others. In the Peerdom Showcase, you can explore live organisational maps to see how others are defining and grouping roles to create their own work map.

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