Wednesday, September 10, 2014


By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research and Development
Professional Communications, Inc.

The first step in developing an evidence-based theory of corporate culture is to define the “thing” that is housing the culture. Cultural boundaries can be nebulous.  Subsidiaries, joint ventures, partnerships, partial ownership and similar interests can all be involved.

The organization chart offers a viable option for defining the boundaries of a culture. Money, power, influence, promotions, discretion and many other valuable factors flow along the channels defined by the chart.  Effectively, the chart is the structural “bones” of the “thing” we call an organization.

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This research used the actual organization chart for a small public university with a staff of about 700 people as a tool. As work progressed it became obvious that organizational charts had standalone merit as a subject of study.  Thus this research blog focuses on this structural element.  Later work will integrate this with the larger behavioral patterns we call “culture.”

A quick overview of the findings of this research is available in a 9-minute companion video. You can access this YouTube video from our website at or directly by clicking the icon on the right. The following textual blog focuses on elements only superficially treated in the video.

Graphic 1 shows a typical two-dimensional organizations chart.  They are useful in visually describing local reporting relationships.  However, a vulnerability is created when the chart is used to frame issues that span local boundaries. 

Graphic 1

The vulnerability is created by the need to estimate the effects of an initiative on the organization as a whole.  For example, implementing an “urgency” initiative in manufacturing can ramify through various organizational arms in unexpected ways. Accounts receivable may begin getting incomplete invoicing information. Sales may find a need to justify product changes. Public relations can begin to get calls from local news organizations. The list goes on and on.

Organizational charts are one of the few vehicles that can capture a general sense of organizational relationships.  The people cited in the chart carry defined responsibilities and certain characteristics can be inferred by simply viewing them. The problem is that the charts are typically two-dimensional.  In order to get a sense of the larger organization you have to mentally weave together a series of graphical representations either on paper or on a screen.

The problem with this “weaving” is that not everyone will arrive at the same representation.  Graphic 2 assumes that an alien is given components of a being—arms, legs, torso and head.  They then proceed to form a picture of how that being would function as a single entity. Clearly, knowing the parts does not assure you that you will be able to grasp the characteristics of the whole.

Graphic 2

The limits of organizational charts have not gone unnoticed. Graphic 3 displays some of the many different attempts that have been made to find ways of capturing organizational complexities in two dimensions.  A Google image search would reveal many more.

Graphic 3

Inaccurate conceptualizations of an organization are a function of size.  Small organizations can be grasped by almost anyone.  Larger ones become more problematic.  Generally, vulnerabilities increase geometrically with size and complexity. In terms of the Graphic 2 cartoon, our alien must weave together ever more interdependent components.

Experience is one of the keys governing the exposure to miscalculation.  For example, the boards of directors of major firms are typically populated by knowledgeable executives. These people have experience trying to change things in large organizations. They know of the unexpected difficulties and exposures likely to be encountered.  These factors temper their decisions.

School boards also make decisions involving large, complicated entities.  However, they are typically populated by elected officials with little high level, large company experience.  They usually have no difficulty understanding cost and other matters that can be reduced to numerical values—dollars, time, distance and so on.  This is likely to give the participants a sense of comfort that they “understand” the organization that they are guiding.

What they are unlikely to recognize are the “soft” issues like interdependent relationships, role responsibilities, interpersonal differences and skill differentials. Organizational charts and other similar representations tend to be accepted as simplified “objective” surrogates for these indeterminate factors. The fragmented nature of these charts can create the risks illustrated by our alien cartoon in Graphic 2.

What applies to corporate and school boards can be extended. In general, the less the experience, the greater is the risk of organizational level miscalculation.  Three dimensional graphics offer a way to mitigate this risk and consequences of judgmental errors.

Expanding the 2D organization chart to 3D produces an almost instantaneous increase in understanding.  Graphic 4 expands a small element of the university’s chart into 3D.
Graphic 4

Without any added information this visualization calls attention to the multiple individuals that must interact with each other as well as with leadership in accomplishing the group’s mission. This understanding alone could well influence the nature and timing of a proposed initiative. Things do not look quite so simple.

A more studied examination of the 3D graphic reveals that the pyramid is itself composed of smaller pyramids.  Graphic 5 highlights one of these.  Each of the silhouette figures represents the apex of another pyramid
Graphic 5

Embedded pyramids immediately suggest an element of complexity. That alone may be enough to give insight in the application of a proposed initiative.  This understanding can be both deepened and expanded by the introduction of added graphical information that foretells behaviors relevant to the issue being addressed. 

Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS or HRIS) are an obvious source potential data. Boxes representing people can be colored to characterize things like age, gender, education, performance rankings and so on.  This can be useful but is confined to a single dimension. What is needed is a graphic that can simultaneously characterize multiple elements of relevant behaviors.  “I Opt” offers just such a tool—the “I Opt” profile.

The “I Opt” profile is a graphical means of describing input-process-output preferences.  The profile is a variant of the well-accepted “radar” chart <1>.  It is unique in that it is not simply an illustration. Both the axes and the quadrants carry meaningful numerical values. This means that exact comparisons can be made between profiles.  It also means that profiles can be "added together" to get meaningful representations of groups of people. Graphic 6 displays a typical profile.  

Graphic 6

A brief explanation of how the profile is constructed is available in the first 6 minutes of the YouTube video Team Tension – Causes and Management<2>.  For our purposes here, the important point is that these profiles can be used to infer a host of predictable behaviors.

The behaviors that are generated by different input-process-output elections can be specified in “I Opt” Snowflakes.  Graphic7 shows a selection that is available free of charge on the “I Opt” website.  The four minute video segment between 10 to 13 minutes into the Engineering Personality video shows how profiles can be applied in actual practice<3>.
Graphic 7

The 3D modelling program used in this effort allows images to be attached to the 3D objects in the model.  Appending the profile to the chart can signal potential issues and opportunities.  Graphic 8 shows an example of the profiles in one segment of university organization chart. 

Graphic 8

The profiles on the 3D chart immediately define the likely preferences and biases of the people in the segment of interest. The profiles are not simply illustrative. They are graphical depictions of real numbers. That means they can be grouped and categories colored without losing the ability to compare individuals.  You not only can “see” the homogeneity but also identify points of divergence as well as the magnitude of any difference. This is vastly superior to averaging methods that merge individual qualities into one a single indistinct “glob.”

Leaders’ can act as filtering mechanisms. Here each of the leaders falls into a distinct category.  However, the geometric similarities of the two top profiles in Graphic 8 suggest that misdirection is unlikely.  The bottom-most leader is different. She differs in both category and in the character of her commitment.  This insight alone may be enough to warrant investing resources to insure that she is aligned with the proposed initiative. This type of early intervention can lower the cost of implementation as well as improving the odds of success.

3D modeling programs typically are built in what is described as “layers.”  Layers are nothing more than images grouped into categories that can be controlled by a switch.  For example, the various boxes in Graphic 8 have all been assigned to a category called “Financial.”  A click of a button can make all of them appear or disappear as a unit.

The same logic can be applied to any group of objects embedded in your model.  For example, individual profiles attached to another group were assigned the category of “Assistant.”  Graphic 9 shows what happens when those are switched on to make them visible.

Graphic 9

A glance is all that is needed to see that the “A” segment is both different from and more varied than is” B.” An initiative affecting both A and B groups is likely to be received very differently. Combined with the insights offered by   the leadership “filters” the 3D model is likely to enable decision makers to more accurately assess the viability of potential initiatives.  This understanding can be deployed at the onset to minimize difficulty while maximizing positive effects.  Implementation can be smoothed, its speed accelerated and its cost minimized by the ability to anticipate difficulties before they occur.    

The illustrations used to this point have focused on a tiny element of the university structure.  Cultural initiatives can involve all of the elements in an entire structure.  3D modeling is also able to address this level of focus.

The value 3D models cannot be fully grasped in two-dimensional representations.  The power of the model can only be appreciated with the ability to rotate the image, focus in on particular segments and filter various parts in an out using the layering switches. However, Graphic 10 does suggest the dimensions of that opportunity. It depicts the organizational relationships of the entire ~700 person university staff.

Graphic 10

At this level the relationships between segments of the entire organization can be explored “on the fly.” The momentum of ideas bouncing between people need not be lost pending some kind of redrawing, analysis or evaluation.  For example, the upper panel of Graphic 11 shows the entire university structure. The lower panel uses the layering switches to show the university’s core function—the various schools (e.g., chemistry, business, engineering, etc.) and the functions needed to support the attending student (e.g., dorms, medical, financial aid, etc.).

Graphic 11

Comparing the two panels gives an immediate sense of the allocation of resources between the core and support functions. Viewing this in the context of a proposed initiative can lead to questions that otherwise may not have been asked.  Doing this in a live format where ideas can be tested and explored while conversations proceed is likely to improve the quality of decisions. The potential for the acceleration of issue resolution and accompanying cost savings are obvious.

Human organizations generally subscribe to a unitary chain of command model.  Ongoing responsibilities typically require stable, predictable relationships and behaviors to function effectively.  This is what the typical organizational chart seeks to represent.

In volatile situations—such as periods of accelerated change—organizations create transient structures. In recent history these have included things such as matrix management, cross functional teams, cross business groups and other similar forms of organization. A common characteristic is that there is no assurance of perpetual existence.  Finance, marketing, manufacturing and other formal business units will exist as long as the business does.  Variant structures will exist only so long as the need persists.

Culture is concerned with beliefs, values and behaviors that become embedded in the psychological makeup of the group members. Once embedded they automatically guide decisions at all levels. Effectively, management has ceded control over these decision elements. Culture attributes are unlikely to arise from temporary structures and management is unlikely to cede control to them if in fact they do happen to arise.  Thus it is deemed reasonable to use the formal organizational structure as the bounding cultural condition.

While not relevant to tracing the origin and effects of cultural transmissions, variant structures can easily be incorporated into 3D organizational models. They are simply another layer that can be denoted by such things as dashed lines, surface overlays or other such mechanisms.  Whether the product is worth the effort depends on the issue being addressed.  It is reasonably certain that any effort dedicated to modeling the formal organization will prove to be of continuing value.

3D models to not solve organizational issues.  They help to identify and frame them.  “I Opt” technology already has a host of methods, analysis and reports that are designed to address issues identified in this analysis<4>.  Their application—as well as those of any other such tool— assume that the general nature of the issue has been identified.  A 3D model can help frame the nature of the issues that might be encountered and merit the application of organizational tools.  In other words, a 3D model can help determine the kind of effort that might be most appropriate to the issue in question. 
The technology of 3D modeling has reached a point where no special computer skill or mathematical abilities is needed to create effective models. The program used to construct the model of the ~700 person university structure used in this blog and accompanying video is the free version of the Sketchup program<5>.  There is a learning curve but it is modest and well supported by an extensive number of video tutorials <6>.  Any consultant, HR or Organizational Development function can develop the capacity to create a useful 3D organizational model.
The “I Opt” profiles that have been attached to the model are equally easy to acquire.  The ones used in this video were obtained by converting the profile images from the “I Opt” Consultant’s package into standard pictures (i.e., jpg images). For purposes of this blog the profiles were colored to represent the various “I Opt” pattern categories (i.e., long-term decision strategies). For other purposes, the colors could be used to represent different behavioral dimensions.  For example, they might have been colored to represent different degrees of likely willingness to accept change or ability to generate radical innovation.  The issue being addressed can dictate the choice of category used.
In summary, 3D organizational charts are not free but they are also not particularly burdensome. Applied with discretion they can serve a useful purpose in deepening insight. They can also be of value in choosing the tools that might be deployed (i.e., TeamAnalysis, LeaderAnalysis, etc.) as well as where and when to deploy them. In total 3D technology can be a useful tool for functions charged with managing human organizations.  The technology merits serious consideration.

(1)     The radar chart is also known as web chart, spider chart, star chart and is a well-accepted method of displaying multivariate data in a two-dimensional format.  The use of ratio measurement allows “I Opt” to assign quantitative meaning to both the axes and quadrants formed by the chart. Thus the graphic captures both the general condition and the magnitude of its specific components within a single image.

(2)   Team Tension – Causes and Management

(4)   All of the “I Opt” reports are sociological in character. They focus on the relationships between individuals rather than on the psychological state of a particular individual. The reports most relevant to the issues addressed in this research blog are:
      TeamAnalysis -
       LeaderAnalysis -
      Advanced Leadership Report -
       Emotional Impact Management -
       Consultants Package -

(5)   The free version of Sketchup is available for personal use and is ideal for exploring the technology. At the time of this writing it is available at

(6)   Sketchup video tutorials can be seen at