Want to Make Your Org Chart Useful? Try Areas of Responsibility (AoRs)

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Organizational charts are a lot like Facebook profiles: they tend to paint a picture that doesn’t quite capture reality. The org chart is a useful tool for showing you who is on what team and the hierarchy of reports, but it can also create a false impression about who owns what piece of the pie. 

How often have you reached out to the head of a team with a question, only to have them redirect you to someone else? This kind of thing is extremely common, and over the course of weeks and months adds up to a lot of wasted time.

Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: Areas of Responsibility (AoRs). 

What are Areas of Responsibility?

Areas of Responsibility are a way of capturing the distribution of responsibility within your company. 

They’re based on the idea that everyone owns some part of the business. While managers have the greatest decision-making power, you don’t want your VP of Marketing deciding what to publish on the blog or your CEO reviewing code. Those AoRs should be the responsibility of subject matter experts within each team.

Owning an AoR in your business DOES NOT mean that you do all of that work in that area. It just means that you’re accountable for the end product. 

The benefits of AoRs

Beyond making your org chart infinitely more useful, AoRs can bring a ton of benefits to your business.

  • They help managers delegate: Making decisions on your team’s AoRs can be tough. As a leader, you may want to be the final resource for everything under your purview. But this can quickly become overwhelming as a flood of questions roll in from other teams. With AoRs, you can delegate responsibility effectively while removing the triaging of tasks and requests from your own plate. Everybody in the organization can check them and know exactly who on the team to reach out to. 
  • They give focus and highlight growth opportunities: When you split responsibility among every member of your team using AoRs, you’re essentially telling them that they have to be THE expert on that topic. This tells them to double down on their work within that area. It also encourages them to expand their knowledge and skills so they truly are the best resource within the company on that topic. For non-management employees, owning an area of the business is very empowering. 
  • They highlight skills gaps within your company: If there’s an area of your business that you don’t feel comfortable assigning to anyone on your team, that’s telling. It’s a clear sign that you need to train or hire an expert to fill that void. Otherwise, someone is going to be left holding a bag they don’t know the contents of. 
  • They highlight work that isn’t goal- or target-driven: When your company is setting its quarterly goals or targets, they probably don’t reflect all of the work that you do. We all have basic responsibilities that are important to the functioning of the business, but aren’t “goal-worthy.” But AoRs bring this important work to light. They acknowledge that someone is in charge of crucial things like managing account access or fixing broken website links. They bring that ongoing maintenance work out of the shadows. 

How to assign AoRs

Decisions about Areas of Responsibility are usually made by managers and department heads. The difficulty of this process depends on the size and structure of your business. 

A startup with 15 employees might only have one salesperson, and all sales-related AoRs fall into their lap. No tough decisions required. In a large enterprise roles might be so specialized that AoRs are easy to assign, since they basically map to job titles. 

Generally, though, you’re going to need to spend some time thinking through the distribution of responsibility. You may have more than one person with similar roles or expertise and you’ll have to choose who owns what. You may even have senior members who aren’t eager to give up control over areas of the business.

Choosing someone for an AoR can come down to several factors:

  • Existing expertise
  • Potential or need for skills growth
  • Equal distribution of responsibility among team members

However you make your decision, clear communication is essential to the effective roll out of AoRs. Tell people why they were chosen for an AoR. Be transparent if you feel they might need training to effectively own that area. Be open to having healthy discussions around responsibilities and org structure.

Restructuring AoRs 

Your AoRs shouldn’t be permanent, but a living reflection of who owns what in your company. That means you shouldn’t hesitate to change them as circumstances change. This can be done in a few ways:

  • Combining AoRs: When multiple AoRs are too similar, you may decide to combine them into a larger one. Having fewer AoRs makes it easier for people to find responsible people in a time of need. Try to only combine those that have the same owner to avoid creating any conflict.
  • AoR splitting: When one AoR becomes two independent AoRs. This often happens as the business scales and specializes. An example would be “writing” becoming copywriting and blogging.
  • Carving out AoRs: When you carve out and delegate a portion of a large AoR. For example, you might have an AoR for “Team development and training” that covers all training in your business. But after hiring a security expert, you decide to carve our “security training” as an independent AoR. This is a common way to give new hires responsibility right out of the gate.
  • AoR delegation: When you hand off an entire AoR to another owner. As people grow and develop within your business, you might feel comfortable handing off more AoRs for them to own. AoR delegation also frequently happens alongside hiring. In fact, at Unito we include expected AoRs in the internal hiring profiles that we build as a means of justifying the hire.

Turning AoRs into action

Areas of Responsibility aren’t just a reference tool. They should be used to drive the personal priorities of their owners.

Typically, each AoR comes with reactive responsibilities and proactive improvements

  • Reactive responsibilities include responding to questions and requests, and making final decisions when there’s no consensus.
  • Proactive improvements include automating and optimizing workflows and tracking progress on AoR-related KPIs.

When someone is assigned an AoR, encourage them to consider the reactive and proactive opportunities, and capture them as tasks in their project management tool of choice. This helps to make the AoR part of their work routine. 

At Unito, we make this easy by housing our AoR list in Asana. That way, tasks can be created within various projects and multi-homed within the AoR as needed. 

Ready to improve your org chart?

Clear responsibilities  mean quicker decision-making, more individual focus, and a better distribution of resources across your business. Areas of Responsibility are the easiest way to bring that clarity to your company and turn the traditional org chart into something actually useful.