energizing breakthrough performance

Customer-Focused Teams Coming Apart at the Seams: Towards the Coherent Matrix Organization

By Ronald A. Gunn, Strategic Futures principal

A Fictional Case-Study

Recent travels in and around the West, the South, and the East have revealed ways in which good faith attempts to be customer-centered and customer-responsive can breed dysfunction. My observations cut across industry boundaries, with fresh lessons drawn from information systems, manufacturing, and government financial management.

Assume a business which serves a battery of different customers, each with its own needs, preferences and assumptions about how work gets done quicker, better, cheaper. Assume further that this business has aligned its structure with its customer-centered strategies and systems. By structural alignment, I mean that functional silos have at last been broken down through use of customer-focused teams which are staffed by personnel drawn from various functional disciplines. Let’s create a fictional matrix organization, we’ll call it E-Markable, which provides products/services to individual teams for First Union, Bank of America, Washington Mutual, Bank of New York, etc., and which are staffed by personnel drawn from various functional disciplines, e.g., marketing/sales, account management, finance, accounting, legal, etc.

Grossly simplified, the revenue flows horizontally across each customer-focused team. Expenses incurred in earning the revenue flow vertically down each functional discipline. The Horizontal (Customer-Focused Team) Leader is responsible for maximizing customer satisfaction and the profitability of that company for our fictitious firm, E-Markable. The Vertical (Functional Discipline Team) Leader is responsible for advancing the state-of-the-art, setting purpose, policies and procedures, attracting and developing staff talent, assuring quality control, and other responsibilities which promote a definable “E-Markable Way” of doing business.

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