Kat Boogaard

Dear Kat: How to Get Familiar With the Office Hierarchy

Blog Post created by Kat Boogaard on Feb 6, 2017

The office hierarchy. Whether you work for a big company or a small company, an organization with a friendly, familial feel or one with a more corporate approach, every single office has one—a particular pecking order that should be respected.


And, most of the time, obeying the rules of those rankings doesn’t present a problem. That is, unless you’re the newbie in the office—much like the submitter of this week’s “Dear Kat” question.


Dear Kat, I’ve been around the block enough to know that every single office has a distinct hierarchy. But, I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s more obvious and other times, well, you’re left wondering.


Trying to sort out these office politics when you’re new can be tricky. So, do you have any tips for how to familiarize yourself with the company’s hierarchy in a way that’s both professional and collaborative?


This is a great question! First things first, you only know what you know. Nobody can expect you to waltz into your new position on day one knowing exactly who’s who—particularly if titles and rankings are somewhat vague or ambiguous. So, there’s no shame in being a little confused or lost when you’re just getting started.


With that being said, understanding the hierarchy and the different politics that come into play in your office is important—no matter how challenging. It’s something you’re going to need to do in order to successfully navigate the relationships and dynamics at work.


So, how can you figure it all out? Here are four tips that should help you get familiar with your office hierarchy—no matter how confusing or ambiguous it might seem.

1. Pay Attention

This first tip is, without a doubt, the most crucial. Why? Well, because you can learn a lot from just observing people—which will save you from having to flat out ask, “Uhhh… who’s the boss here?”


Pay close attention to the different dynamics and relationships that come to play in the office. Does one person appear to lead the meetings or do the majority of the presenting? Is there a certain colleague who gets asked for input and insights the majority of the time? What’s the communication like in the emails you’re copied on?


While it’s not always a fool-proof method, observing can reveal a lot about the pecking order in your office.


2. Recognize Influencers vs. Leaders

If you’re a keen observer of the dynamics in your office, you might realize something interesting: The people who appear to have a lot of influence might not necessarily be in a designated leadership position.


That’s because there’s oftentimes a difference between influencers and managers or leaders in office environments—they don’t always end up being the same people. So, don’t pigeonhole yourself into thinking you can’t ask a particular colleague for input or advice, simply because she doesn’t have an executive-level title.


As we all know, there’s the formal hierarchy of the office (AKA the one you’ll find in your company’s organizational chart). But, there’s also an informal order of things—based on the way people behave and interact—that’s often abided by even more than the printed chart.


3. Peruse Your Resources

Speaking of a formal organizational chart, many offices have resources on hand that you can use to try to navigate the rankings and politics within the office.


Poke through your company’s shared files to see if there’s an organizational chart you can reference (or, just ask for one!). You can also look at your employer’s website—which can be particularly helpful if you have absolutely no idea who’s in the leadership tier of your company.


It might all seem painfully obvious—and, ideally, you’d have those basic questions answered before you ever tackled your first day on the job. But, if you’re looking for a quick rundown of people’s positions and titles, those can be great places to check.


4. When in Doubt, Just Ask

Sometimes, no matter how much clever detective work you do, you’ll still need a little help navigating the dynamics and the hierarchy of your office. So, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to just ask and get the answers you desperately need.


Of course, this doesn’t need to be as blatant or forward as, “Hey, who’s in charge here?” There are more gentle ways to go about it.


For example, instead of asking, “Who’s the boss?” try something like, “Who should have final approval on this?” Or, instead of, “Who’s supposed to answer this question?” ask, “Who should be involved in this meeting or discussion?”


Those questions will help you clear things up—without making you feel (or seem!) totally out of the loop.


Learning the hierarchy of your office when you’re the newbie can be trickier than you might initially think. But, these four tips should help you get a decent feel for who’s who and who’s responsible for what.


Once you manage to get your bearings? The important thing to remember is to respect the order of things. It can be tempting to go over your boss’ head (particularly when he or she is slow to respond) or to neglect to involve someone who’s notoriously difficult to work with.


However, it’s important that you resist the urge and respect the hierarchy. Remember, your office is structured that way for a reason.