Neil Tambe

Husband, Father, Citizen, Professional.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

I'm kind of curious what folks think about this idea I've been brooding on for the past few weeks - a chart which maps the mission of an organization (think: webbing it into smaller pieces) and overlays each node with people, teams, roles and operational data.

Do you think this idea is worth building a prototype or concept deck around?

I figured it'd make sense to float this around a bit because of the firm's recent, curious, penchant for "focusing investment". Here's some of the buildup/context and the idea itself:


Working on our Skills-based volunteer pilot program, I got to thinking about what an Org Chart actually is - it has some assumptions to it. Here are some observations:

  • Implies hierarchy - makes leadership the focus of the document
  • Goes from "top to bottom" with who is responsible for decision making
  • People are organized by function and department (from what I've seen)
  • Depends on individual owners occupying roles and managing tasks/responsibilities
  • Information spreads via clearly defined channels and reporting structures
  • Suggests that roles / responsibilities and one's position in the organization is static (you are in one box and only one box until you change jobs or roles in the organization)
There are probably more observations, but, this is already good fodder for discussion so let's run with these.

Now, we know organizations are changing and so is the organizational world. Agility and engagement is probably viewed as a higher priority than stability and risk, at least to some degree more than in previous decades. We have a need for delieberate disruption with organizations to encourage innovation, growth and learning. The purpose of organizations in society is also changing...the lines between public, private and social organizations is blurring. Read The Big Shift and the Power of Pull or any book about complex systems to get a taste for why.

In a previous draft of this post, I wanted to discuss the assumptions (above), but I'll take a different tack - I'll set some context and present a new idea for how we think about organizations.

More and more, it seems to me that organizations need to focus on mission. This is for several reasons:

  • An organization needs to be particular about what it's trying to accomplish, or it wastes time and resources doing things that don't really impact their value/bottom-line
  • Reaching for a mission motivates employees, a lot.
  • Focusing on a goal helps teams actually get things done, instead of "spinning their wheels".
(I'll leave this point for now - I don't want to try to do this now, because there's another point I want to make and this is pretty well discussed in contemporary management literature).

Let's no go back to the organization chart, it's a hallmark of corporate forms of organization. Why don't corporate organization charts make any direct reference to mission? After all, how can an employee, let alone an organization, focus on mission if they don't know how their individual role connects to the mission of the organization?

So here's my proposition - a "mission map". Here's how it would's kind of like a mind map:

On the center of a page, put the mission of the organization. From there, map out the big elements of the organization's strategy - like spokes coming out of the center of the wheel. From there, further articulate subcomponents of the strategy and activities in the same webbing/mindmapping fashion.

If this mission map were able to be created in a web-based tool, each note in the mission map could be filled with information about the people involved in supporting each sub component of the mission, specific operational details, performance metrics and key milestones. Any leader in the organization (or any employee for that matter) could open up the mission map, click on a subcomponent and see the link between people, mission and performance.

What I think the value is
There are few reasons I think this would be valuable:

  • Line of sight - a mission map breaks down a mission into small pieces, that way every person in the organization knows how their work impacts the organization's mission
  • Flexibilities / Teaming - People are overlayed onto the mission, so you can put down different people onto different aspects of the mission. One person could be assigned to more than one subcomponent of mission, which is true to life. A chart of this sort reflects the teaming required in an organization, which is also more true to life than a run of the mill organization chart.
  • Scoping - by breaking down mission into pieces it can be compared to what is actually occurring in the organization today. If an activity cannot be weaved into a mission map, it raises the question - should it actually be done by the organization?
Anyway, does anyone have an advice on whether this is a "winning" idea? Has something like this ever been attempted?