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Walt Disney’s Creative Organization Chart

org_chart_02

In 1943, five years after it was founded and during the height of World War II, Walt Disney Studios put out an organization chart to explain how the company functioned. What’s fascinating is how it differs from org charts issued by most corporations. Typically, corporate org charts are hierarchical, with each operating division isolated into “silos” showing job titles according to reporting chain of command and ultimate authority. The CEO and SVPs get the higher positions and bigger boxes; the little boxes represent the expendable worker “bees.”


disneyorgchart1

The Disney org chart, on the other hand, is based on process, from the story idea through direction to the final release of the film. All of the staff positions are in the service of supporting this work flow. Perhaps the question now is what should the org chart of the future look like, given the global workforce, telecommuting personnel, virtual employees, outsourced jobs and contract workers who sometimes outnumber salaried staff? In an idea-based, rather than a manufacturing-based, economy, how should a business organize itself? Does the very nature of their assignments imply that designers will always work in an environment like the Disney org chart and clients will always work in a hierarchical structure? And is this difference the crux of the disconnect between how designers and clients look at problems?

This entry was posted in Film, Information Graphics | Permalink | del.icio.us

24 Comments

  1. Ben
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Great chart and interesting post.

  2. Posted August 10, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I think the two charts are in alignment; the Disney chart is showing an operational flow, not an org. They probably had an authority org chart too. Note the text at the bottom of the chart, “operations, not authorities”. It's nice to see anyway as it represents the spirit of how work should be done.. not out of fear, but out of inspiration.

  3. Doniology
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Wow, great skeptical observation skills, Michael! My hat is off to you.

  4. meganllooney
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    We understand now that piracy is a business model. It exists to serve a need in the market for consumers who want TV content on demand. Pirates compete the same way we do – through quality, price and availability. We we don?t like the disney acting auditions model but we realise it?s competitive enough to make it a major competitor going forward

  5. Fred Nashed, AIA
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I would like to make suggestions for improvements to Disney World. Who shall I direct my letter to?

  6. lyndashannon
    Posted November 18, 2009 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Now we know what organizational success looks like! Visited the Walt Disney Family Museum last week and was blown away by this poster sized org chart.

  7. Posted December 9, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It in fact, says that it represents operations not authority *right on the chart*. (Check out the bottom of the chart).

  8. Posted December 9, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It in fact, says that it represents operations not authority *right on the chart*. (Check out the bottom of the chart).

  9. jamiehardt
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    This chart's about 20 years too early for any theme park divisions.

    This org chart is sortof a testament to how simple Disney's business was in the 40s. They didn't have Buena Vista or any distribution operation at all (they shipped through Columbia at the time). There was no TV, no cable networks, no home entertainment divisions, no record labels. It's all a neat little package where stories go in one end and shorts and the occasional feature pop out the other.

    There are also some pretty big elisions, like “Production Control” and “Army-Navy relations” being so small, when in fact the first was Roy's fiefdom and the second represented about half of Disney's business during the war years (if you see animation in any World War II training/informational film, it was done at Disney).

    Note also, conspiracy buffs, that the management echelon has a “morgue.” I have a feeling this is some kind of terminology for something, but as a sometime Disney production employee, I've never heard it…

  10. bMan
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    In old TV terminology, a “Morgue” was a library that stored all the archived material. I worked for a television network a long time ago and we had a stock footage “morgue” that we drew from constantly. So don't panic, it's not where the sickly 8th Dwarf and Bambi's mother ended-up.

  11. Posted December 9, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. This circular model aligns with Henry Mintzberg's idea of organizational structures. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/article
    Though companies are usually organized in hierarchical form, at least on paper, in every organization there are strong and weak relationships across all nodes which definitely violate the hierarchy.

  12. pauljholden
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    It is fascinating, but surely the text “Note: This Chart Designates Operations And Not Authorities” suggests that there's another chart which may be more like a traditional org chart?

    Update: oops, I see others have pointed this out. My apologies for duplicate comment.

  13. Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think that unintentionally some Software Companies works like that. Despite of its hierarchical organizational charts, the operations are more organized about the people functions.

  14. Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think that unintentionally some Software Companies works like that. Despite of its hierarchical organizational charts, the operations are more organized about the people functions.

  15. Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think that unintentionally some Software Companies works like that. Despite of its hierarchical organizational charts, the operations are more organized about the people functions.

  16. Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think that unintentionally some Software Companies works like that. Despite of its hierarchical organizational charts, the operations are more organized about the people functions.

  17. Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think that unintentionally some Software Companies works like that. Despite of its hierarchical organizational charts, the operations are more organized about the people functions.

  18. Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    This is wonderful. Thanks for posting!

  19. figrantham
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    This is really interesting not only relevant to a working culture thats global and transient but also with social technologies challenging the silo structures. I work in social media and increasingly see companies struggling to adopt social technologies – not because it doesn't suit their brand or their staff don't get it but because they're not set up to listen, respond, adapt, collaborate, create…. Suddenly process is way more important that structure. Suddenly being democratic and ideas driven is more important hierarchy. Maybe, the evolution since 1943 is that this 'could' replace a structured chart? Not sure, i am no HR expert. There has been some stuff written about 'social org design' with models looking a lot like this, but Walts name provides a credible case study – even if its from 1943!

  20. Posted December 14, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Does anyone happen to know if a poster of this is available? I think it'd be quite a fun addition to my office, along with a few Disneyland ride posters.

  21. cruybal
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Since the chart clearly states at the bottom, “This Chart Designates Operations and Not Authorities”. It leads me to believe that there's another more hierarchical chart.

  22. cruybal
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Since the chart clearly states at the bottom, “This Chart Designates Operations and Not Authorities”. It leads me to believe that there's another more hierarchical chart.

  23. shall1028
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Commenters who smugly point out that the chart represents “Operations and Not Authorities” and there must exist a conventional authorities chart miss the point. I think it is important to note that in most organizations the the two types of charts are the same. This stultifies creativity in whatever the company’s field happens to be (whether it be producing films or making widgets) as those at the bottom of the chart feel the crushing weight of bureaucratic inertia.

  24. gillbla
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Hi, Does anyone have the disney org chart saved in a larger size? I really want to get an A3 print made up of it.

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