Large companies have necessarily needed a functional structure in order to manage the vast number of people they employ. Somewhere it was decided that any one individual cannot be responsible for more than 7-10 direct reports...and consequently you get functional hierarchies.
The big issue? Whether functions are determined by job type(engineering, sales, etc.) or by market segment (consumer, channel, etc.), corporate priorities and initiatives typically cross function. That may not seem so bad, except that each functional head understands the priorities just a little bit differently. One function may see the number 1 priority as 10x more important than the number 2 priority while their colleague may see them as roughly equal in importance. That has huge implications on how many and which resources get assigned to different initiatives. Below is my simplistic graphic of this problem:
In the social media circle we talk a lot about how more open and transparent communication can help identify the gaps and issues but communities can't really solve the problem. If anything they just put more pressure on understaffed resources to keep up with initiatives in other groups that may be much better staffed.
Let's take a bit of a radical view and say...why don't companies staff initiatives instead of functional groups? For example, a corporate initiative could be to increase customer satisfaction. There are likely things in every functional area that need to be addressed. Then maybe skill set based groups become more communities of practice and maybe groups that pool resources when individuals roll off of projects and get assigned new ones...and maybe that is how you also measure individual performance. Those that always get snapped up for projects should be rewarded while those that are regularly returned to the pool get put on development plans. This is more or less the way consulting firms work...why not other types of corporations?
My guess? Most people don't like to leave their comfort zone. Instead of exciting, people prefer predictable. The problem? Very little is predictable anymore. GM is near death's door, The Chicago Tribune has declared bankruptcy, and a handful of well-armed terrorists can create chaos for weeks in the world's largest cities.
I think initiative focused cross-functional teams would be an interesting way to approach this problem. Hire pure resource managers to manage people who are 'on the beach' as we used to say in consulting and between initiatives. In my mind that would give individuals one primary goal - for the length of the initiative (which could be multi-year if it involved expanding into a new market). Communities of practice could then be set up - using social software - to help share skill-specific best practices across individuals.
Anyone else think that sounds like a good approach?