Organizations: Ranks and Files

Organizations don’t generally just come as a bunch of people all with their own ideas and no system to direct them. Instead, there’s usually at least lip service paid to the idea of ranks, titles, and other means of figuring out who does what and who needs to obey whom. Knowing how the ranks work is often important to fleshing out an organization: writers can use it to help keep characters apart, and GMs whose players want to join and/or rise through the organization can use them as carrots to dangle in front of those players.

Organizations with a strong emphasis on their hierarchy, like the military or a guild, are going to pay more attention to rank; what matters isn’t so much the role their members fill as who says jump and who asks how high. This creates discrete rungs of power that often encompass a large variety of skillsets and abilities; take the military, where medical officers haven’t gone through the same sort of training but get the same salutes as their more combat-oriented counterparts. On the other hand, a group where purpose matters more than who takes orders from whom is going to have a range of job titles depending on what people actually do; sure, you need a flow chart to figure out who can give orders to whom, but the titles make it clear who it’s best to go to to get a certain job done. The more differentiated the jobs in the organization are, the more different job titles it’s likely to encompass.

It should be self-explanatory that unless there’s some form of recruitment effort on (or, conversely, the budget just got cut in half), there shouldn’t be more ranks than there are people to fill them. Everyone having a title is one thing, but having titles without owners is a bit odd. In most cases there will be fewer, as multiple people get put under the same designation; the larger the organization, the more people referred to by the same job description.

Of course, where there are ranks, there is movement between them; it’s vital to have at least a good idea how that works. Are there set objective benchmarks that need to be met in order to arrange a promotion? Does a member get a position just by doing the duties expected of one that’s currently empty, or by outdoing or eliminating the current position holder? Are there leaders to placate, dues to pay, feats to accomplish? Who’s in on the process, and do they have any relevant biases?

What privileges does rank carry? Sure, a title on its own can be waved around to impress people, but that’s not likely to be the only benefit. Power, resources, ability to direct the organization, the organization taking proper care of you, recognition in the outside community—different places have different advantages for moving up in the ranks. Conversely, what are the disadvantages; if power has its price, what’s the price here? Are there elements that adjust power level within a rank, like expertise or seniority?

Rank may be a complicating factor, but it’s an important part of most organizations. How does it work in yours?

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