Transforming Culture with Client Focused Teams


Dodd Starbird, Managing Partner, Implementation Partners, LLC., Alpharetta, GA 30005, GA, USA


Transformation, Client Focused Teams, Culture


Financial Services



A Lean Six Sigma improvement project can transform a narrow process or a whole organization. When the team chooses to envision a whole organizational transformation, the stakes become even higher for the people. Discovering the concept of a “client-focused team” can help break down silos, connecting processes and people in new and extremely meaningful ways. When they launched their “Client and Process Effectiveness” (CaPE) project in 2017, the leadership team of a retirement plan management company knew that they would find an opportunity to reconsider their organizational design. The company had grown its client base substantially since its processes and teams had last been redesigned. It was potentially time for a change. In its early years when the company was small, like many entrepreneurial organizations they had originally developed an “everyone does everything” mentality. As the company grew, however, they had reached the limits of that concept and had created specialized functional roles and teams. By 2017, those functional teams had grown large enough to be silos of client and process knowledge, creating barriers to collaboration and causing handoffs of work between groups. Most critically, those functional silos were driving substantial defect rates, for example because the people coordinating with the clients were not the people actually doing the transactions. The eventual answer became a “client-focused team” in between those two models, but the organization needed to prove the cost-benefit impact of that decision first. So they took a Lean Six Sigma approach, and after defining the project and the process, they deployed a time study to measure the work. At first, a time study sounds like a painful experience.

To mitigate that concern, the team first put some effort into streamlining the collection system. After studying the team’s processes and designing a spreadsheet with drop- downs for every task type as well as other important attributes of the work (product type, customer, work outcome, etc.), they created a template for each person to collect the data, which was tailored by role. Data validation, conditional formatting, and other built-in functionality helped team members to fill in only the information that was needed for each task, which made the tracking both faster and more accurate. The participants later said that it was enlightening to see where their time actually went, and leaders recognized that the value of the information gained vastly outweighed the investment in data collection. After deploying the self-reported time study across all of the operational roles and departments, the project core team was able to quantify the cost of collaboration across the silos of operational administration (who did transactions), client service (who communicated with clients), and service operations (who checked quality and managed delivery of some higher- complexity client work).

The pilot team enthusiastically jumped into working together, putting up a whiteboard to track their action items and monitor their available and completed work over time. The team quickly began to see efficiency gains from the new model, clearing transaction backlogs in a few weeks and getting quickly to same-day processing. Defects, more importantly, dropped by more than 50%. Client escalations, once an almost-daily issue for leaders, became almost non-existent. After the success of the pilot, the leadership team announced a plan to expand their Client- Focused Teams across their whole business, which they accomplished in the summer of 2018. The project led the team to an innovative solution that engages all roles in a collaborative organizational design that ultimately benefits both the people and the customer. Their story was the perfect mix of people, process, and data!