10/22/2014 01:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Power of the Relationship

2014-10-21-OrgChart.pngFor many within an organization the thought of "who holds the power" is pretty simple. We have been trained to look at organizational charts filled with boxes and arrows to learn about who and where the power of an organization is held. So, all one needs to do is look at the chart and follow the arrows. Unfortunately this is a major fundamental flaw in today's organizational management structure.

One of the major problems with training people to rely on these types of charts is that it immediately limits creative, autonomous thinking, and to a certain degree results in limiting leadership contributions beyond what is expected for that box. It is not that organizational charts do not serve a purpose. They have been instrumental in helping organize a company by identifying areas to be staffed, communicate responsibilities, and provide communication as to functions within the company. However, organizational charts have also had the psychological effect of training staff to think in terms of "that is not my job or area of responsibility" and can also create silos around the functions.

The silo effect is something that I see in many organizations. This is where one department or division functions almost autonomously from another. On its own merits, the department may be very efficient and still provide value to the organization, however as an autonomous unit it never really hits full stride in terms of being in sync with the organization and therefore it does not live up to its true full potential and ultimately keeps the organization from greatness.

The real power inside an organization is not buried within a better definition of the box, or the tasks, or a separate department mission and vision to support the overall company mission and vision. The real power is in the relationship between the individuals and with the organization as a whole. This relationship power can be positive or negative. It is easy to see negative relationships between individuals and departments that result in barriers to success and/or even sabotage within the company. It is a little harder to see and build positive relationships and organizational charts can get in the way of this development. This is because the charts have a tendency to create the feeling of "disconnectedness" between each functional area.

To overcome this phenomenon, it will be necessary to de-emphasize the power of the organizational chart and instead focus on the power of the relationship. Organizational power is totally relational and relationship based, and truly powerful organizations develop strong relationships internally and externally. Once a positive relationship is established power is created. Just think about statements we have all heard before.... "all of us are smarter than one of us" and "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts".

If an organization wants to leverage its power, it would be well served to start by focusing on relationships. Look internally to determine if individuals and departments are truly connected and working together. Is there common understanding and connectedness towards achieving an outcome? Is there open and honest communication where individuals can speak their truths? Look externally at the relationships with vendors and customers. Are they vendor partners and customer partners? Are they working together with you to achieve your goals and theirs?

Organizations that emphasize the quality of relationships over the quality of an organizational chart would be in a better position to leverage their collective knowledge and power for long-term sustainability.

Keith Richards is a Partner with the Newport Board Group, a national professional services firm of strategic advisors, seated Board Directors and Interim C-Level executives. He's also a Director with Integral Edge Partners focusing on high performance leadership transformation and corporate culture development. He is a regular commentator on a variety of business radio programs, keynote speaker and blog author. Keith can be reached at, followed on twitter at and linkedin at