Team spirit lacks customer focus

BUSINESSES are obsessed with creating teams and flattening their hierarchies, across the country and across all sectors. These developments, so the thinking goes, are the best ways to achieve customer satisfaction and 'total quality'. But while this approach is fine in theory, it appears it has not worked the expected magic in practice. Colin Coulson- Thomas, author of a new report on the issue, will strike a chord with many when he says: 'There is a danger that groups or teams are focusing excessively on internal dynamics at the expense of external customers.' The report, Harnessing the Potential of Groups, was published last week by Lotus Development, a pioneer in software designed to aid personal computer networking.

This needs to be borne in mind when assessing the finding that many change programmes are failing for want of the right tools, but Mr Coulson- Thomas's reputation in the study of management is such that the report cannot simply be dismissed as self-promotion. In particular, companies need to address his belief that corporate life does not always match the aspirations associated with such concepts as empowering, enabling and team-building.

The survey involved more than 100 UK and multinational organisations, including the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry as well as the likes of Rank Xerox and British Gas.

It suggests a shift away from generalities such as 'quality' to the identification and encouragement of activities and processes that actually deliver value to customers.

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