Brad Feld

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Three Year Future Org Chart Exercise

Feb 28, 2019
Category Management

I’ve been doing a three-year future org chart exercise with the CEOs of a number of the companies I’m involved in between $25m and $250m in revenue.

This can be done on a napkin, a sheet of paper, or a whiteboard. It should not be done in PowerPoint, Google Slides, or a fancy org chart maker app. It should be done in real-time, without preparation, and in front of a small group, which could include co-founders or board members. But, start with a small group – no more than four people in total.

Draw your current org chart. If this is difficult, messy, or ambiguous, then slow down and talk it through with whomever you have in the room. You probably have some opportunities for improvement here.

Do not draw any empty boxes. Do not have any TBH boxes. Try to avoid dotted lines, although own up to them if they exist. Given that you are at least $25m in revenue, go two levels down (your direct reports and their direct reports.)

Now, stare at it for a while and discuss with whoever is in the room. If you are the only person in the room, go get other people on your board or leadership team who you trust to give you blunt and constructive feedback before you continue the exercise.

Write down all of your thoughts and feedback. Don’t change your org chart, but try to decide what you don’t like about it. Identify when you have the wrong person in a role, or when they have too much, or too little span of control. Are all your direct reports white guys? Are they functional peers? Do you trust them and respect them equally? Do they communicate well with each other – both one on one and as a group? If you were to rehire them today for the role they are in, would you? Are you paying them too much or too little? Do they have too much equity or too little? Or is the org porridge just right?

Close your eyes and image three years into the future. You are three years older. If you have kids, they are three years older. If your parents are still alive, they are three years older. There are new politicians in office. The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl again for another year in a row, but no one except people who live in New England care. You still get way too much email and VR is still pointless for anything except video games.

Open your eyes. Your business is somewhere between two and three times bigger than it was when you closed your eyes. Do not look at your old org chart from three years ago. Draw a new org chart. This time you can have empty boxes and TBH. You still don’t want dotted lines if you can help it.

Once again, go two levels down. But start with the CEO box. Are you still in it? If not, are you in a different box on the org chart? As you fill out the future org chart, once again only go two levels down. Make a list off to the side of people you have in the company today in senior roles who you don’t think will be with you in three years. Make a different list of the people who in senior positions today who will still be in the company, but won’t be in the top two levels of the organization.

Now, compare the org charts. Are there any changes you would (or should) make now, rather than in three years? As with the current org chart, discuss this with the people in the room. Let them challenge you, allow yourself to be defensive and feel whatever feelings you have, rather than try to please them or get to the right answer. Let it be uncomfortable.

As a bonus, design your ideal board of directors for three years from now. Once again, start with your current board. Close your eyes. Then draw your future board. Instead of names, put characteristics in the boxes. After you’ve done this, you can put names against the future board members when the person fits the characteristics.

Again, discuss.

Now, bring more people into the room. Ideally, you will now bring in your entire board and your leadership team. However, if you are uncomfortable bringing in your full leadership team (all of your direct reports), don’t bring in anyone from the leadership team at this point.

Walk everyone through today’s org chart, the future org chart, the current board, and the future board. Pause after each one for feedback or thoughts, especially on the future org chart and future board. Finally, go person by person for feedback on where you have ended up.

If you take this exercise seriously, it will take an hour or two. While you don’t have to do it face to face, I’ve found it most effective if the first set of people involved is in a room in front of a whiteboard. If you attach this exercise to a board meeting, do it at the end, and go out for a meal afterward.

As the CEO, record all of what you did (at the minimum, take photos with your phone.) Put it off to the side for a week, but then revisit it and decide what changes you are going to make and how you are going to make them to your team to get from today’s org structure to the org structure three years from now.