Using SharePoint to Communicate Organizational Structure Effectively

Chris Wright

May 3, 2012

The humble “org chart” might feel like an outmoded concept, but it can serve a very important purpose for many companies — especially in a turbulent economy.

Most companies maintain organizational information in one form or another. This information is often stored in payroll systems, Intranets, or even in good old Excel. Visio is another firm favorite, and it will often fall to the HR department to keep the data in sync with staff movements.

One of the key tenets of business intelligence is that good decision-making requires good data. For a company of any size to be able to make smart decisions about people, roles, and responsibilities they need to understand how things are currently set up.

The org chart of yesteryear might have shown names, reporting lines, and little else. But enterprises now have access to an incredible amount of data about their staff. Used in the right way, this data can help turn the org chart into an important modern business tool.

SharePoint is a good candidate on which to build this new generation of org chart. An Intranet is often an ideal host, allowing the data to be accessible company-wide. More significantly the user profile data often held in a SharePoint system is a rich source of org chart information.

Let us look at the options for building and displaying org charts in SharePoint.

MySites & the “Organization Browser” Web Part

Out of the Box Functionality

SharePoint 2010 comes with a key feature called the “Organization Browser” to display org chart style information. The Silverlight-powered web part uses the manager field from user profiles to build up a hierarchy of people. Users can then navigate around this structure in a very slick manner, viewing a wide range of information pulled from user MySites. By default, the web part is located on every user’s My Profile tab on their MySite, but it can be added to other pages if required.

The interface is well designed, and it does provide a good way of navigating between individuals’ profile information. If your company has deployed MySites then you are already halfway to making good use of this component. The main drawback is there is no real way to view an entire tree of users in one place.

Visio Services

Microsoft Visio

Many org charts are already stored in Visio, and using Visio services within SharePoint (Enterprise). This information can be published to a page on an Intranet system. Changes to the Visio file will be automatically published directly to the page, and end-users do not need Visio to view the resulting diagram.

Taking this a step further, Visio can be connected to various data sources (such as SQL Server or SharePoint lists). By connecting a diagram to an appropriate source of employee data, and then publishing it using Visio services, a “live” diagram can be created. This option isn’t for the fainthearted (Visio services is quite immature compared to its sibling Excel services) but the results can be striking if done well.

SharePoint Org Chart Web Part


The SharePoint Org Chart web part is compatible with both SharePoint 2010 and 2007. Unlike any out-of-the-box solution, it presents information in a traditional, easy-to-read hierarchical tree. Data can be pulled from a number of sources, including the SharePoint user profile service, and includes photographs, MySite content, and even presence information.

The component also includes a search tool, allowing users to be searched by name and job titles. The charts themselves are well laid out, clean, and colorful. They can also be customized if required.

All in all this tool provides a nice, more traditional, alternative to the out-of-the-box “Organization Browser.”

User Directory Web Part


Bamboo are well-known makers of a number of SharePoint web parts and add-ins. Whilst they don’t offer a direct “org chart” webpart, they do have a number of similar “user” based tools. The “User Directory” web part is a good example. This provides an easy way to build a self-service user directory, with a (albeit, very basic) tree view option for looking at the data as a traditional org chart.

The key selling point here is users can maintain their own data, which minimizes the workload on HR or admin resources. This goes further than any out-of-the-box solution, such as updating MySite information, by allowing users to up their own Active Directory data in addition to their SharePoint profile.

Title Image courtesy of iQoncept (Shutterstock).

About the Author
Chris Wright is the founder of the Scribble Agency, a technology copywriting agency based in London. He writes extensively on SharePoint, web trends, and general IT topics, both in print and on the web. He is also a feature writer for Web Designer magazine and SmartPhone Essentials, and a regular contributor to nothingbutSharePoint and CMSWire.


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