Most healthcare provider organizations operate with a weak matrix structure meaning the matrix is titled away from the cross functional teams or in other words, the organization is tilted away from the customer and towards the functional departments.  A functional structure helps develop expertise, systems and processes needed to enable staff do a specific job well according to industry metrics but are weak structures for promoting collaboration and enhancing customer focus.

I started thinking more about organizational structure while serving as an interim service line manager for a prominent hospital.  The role of service line managers differs slightly from organization to organization but the main purpose of the position is to help build the service line.  The challenge is that few service line leaders have direct support.  Most manage from the middle with influence as their main method to get the information and resources needed to do their jobs well done.  Granted influencing others is an essential skill for any manager but influence alone can limit management effectiveness especially in a weak matrix structure.

Leading companies use the customer’s voice to align the organization, foster teamwork and create products that meet the customer needs.  Most have adopted a matrix structure and assigned people from functional departments to cross functional teams responsible for managing products.  Moving more expertise to the front lines gives the product managers the timely support needed to solve problems, develop solutions, create new products and enhance service.

What if we used the matrix structure to move support from the functional departments to the service lines?  Would it help foster the collaboration needed to improve outcomes, reduce costs and/or enhance the patient experience?

There are challenges with every organizational structure and this one is no different.  Studies of cross functional teams have reported 75% are dysfunctional.  Getting people to work together is no easy task.  However, there are a few learnings from leading companies that can help make cross functional teams more successful in any organization.

Support: Functional managers need to support the cross functional teams.  The functional managers need to evolve their method of monitoring, developing and supporting their people working outside the department.

People: Functional managers need to assign people who have the knowledge and experience to contribute to the cross functional team and the people assigned need to be open to working with others that think differently than them.

Rewards: Functional managers need to be rewarded for supporting the cross functional team and the success of the team.  Broader metrics that reflect the company goals should be more heavily weighted in their compensation structure.

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”

– Peter Drucker

About the Author: Shannon Smith is a healthcare strategist with over fifteen years of experience helping companies achieve greater success. She has successfully led the transformation of ASCs and hospitals, helped technology and device companies with product and customer development and advised other professional firms on transactions.