Effective Global Teams Are Aligned Not Built


Effective Global Teams Are Aligned Not Built

by: Howard M. Guttman


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Thought Leaders

SHIDEH SEDGH BINA. Cofounder, Insigniam Performance, a global management consulting firm with a proprietary methodology for enterprise performance transformation and catalyzing breakthrough results. For more information, visit insigniam.com or e-mail sbina@insigniam.com.

CHRIS BOGAN. CEO, Best Practices LLC, a research, consulting, database, and publishing firm. For more information, visit best-in-class.com or e-mail cbogan@best-in-class.com. 

NANCY FETROW. VP, Project Management, Auxilium, a biopharmaceutical company providing innovative solutions for unique diseases that improve health and quality of life. For more information, visit auxilium.com. 

HOWARD M. GUTTMAN. Principal, Guttman Development Strategies Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in executive coaching; building horizontal, high-performance teams; strategic and organizational alignment; and management development training. For more information, visit guttmandev.com.

RITA KELLEY. Senior Director, Marketing, EpiCept, which is focused on the development and commercialization of pharmaceutical products for the treatment of cancer and pain. For more information, visit epicept.com or e-mail rkelly@epicept.com. 

LESLIE POTT. Spokesperson, AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company focused on six therapy areas, including cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, and respiratory, and inflammatory. For more information, visit astrazeneca-us.com. 

KEN RIBOTSKY. President and Founder, The Core Nation, which leverages strategic talent and resources across three agencies: Core-Create, Alpha & Omega, and Brandkarma. For more information, visit thecorenation.com.

Trust, understanding, common goals and perceptions, speaking the same language—literally and figuratively—all sound like the ingredients for a successful marriage. The same factors that are inherent in any successful relationship must be present among the members of global cross-functional teams, or the results are just as disastrous: missed deadlines, delayed drugs to market, and rising costs. Issues can arise from every angle: geographical, cultural, and, most obvious, language barriers that include differences in meaning, tone, and delivery.

PharmaVOICE asked industry thought leaders to discuss the importance of team building and how having a process in place can equip cross-functional teams with the tools they need to keep projects and goals moving forward.The following are their pertinent responses culled from our interviews.

Team Alignment is Critical

There was a time not so long ago when working virtually or with others that were located across the world was unheard of. But today that situation is commonplace for even small companies.

According to a Best Practices benchmarking field study and report, Best Practices in Building Global Capacity for Corporate Teams, more than one-third of employees surveyed at 56 companies work on a global team, and at 25% of those companies, 60% to 100% of employees work on global teams. Along with the benefits of the talents and skills provided by the diverse members of virtual teams come just as many challenges. In terms of creating effective cross-functional global teams, team-rapport building is out; team performance alignment is in.

BINA. INSIGNIAM PERFORMANCE. Twenty years ago globalization was not a factor in employee performance for organizations, but it sure is now. Team building today is so much more than going on a retreat and rappelling down a cliff. The global environment adds more complexity. In addition to traditional issues, there is a whole other set of global issues that pertain to different nationalities, cultures, and understanding of what it takes to be a team leader or a team player in a global context, as well as the issues generated by distance and virtual teaming.

FETROW. AUXILIUM. Most companies are focusing on developing lean and mean solutions, as there has been quite a bit of belt tightening in the past two years, and the shift is on to do things more efficiently. Sometimes the only place to build efficiency is in how well a team works together. Teams need to be able to communicate, identify issues, and rapidly build solutions and put them in place, which moves products faster to market and many times results in a higher quality product as well. Clearly, companies are focused on team building because cross-functional, high-performing global teams are even more critical in this industry. There are very few companies that do not have a global presence. Even small biotech companies work globally if they partner with other companies. And although these companies may not have a direct cross-functional global team, they function in a very cross-functional team environment.

GUTTMAN. GUTTMAN DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES. The days of “Sign up Tuesday for a training class” are over. Companies are now investing in organizational development to align senior teams and turn them into high-performance powerhouses. There is a significant competitive advantage in having aligned, high-performing global teams. Think about it: products can be easily imitated; processes can be duplicated; and companies have access to the same consultants. But the competition cannot buy the skills of an aligned team. Now, more than ever, companies are focusing on business deliverables. But teams cannot deliver when they aren’t aligned. Performance intangibles—strategy alignment, business goals, roles and responsibilities, protocols, and business relationships—can make or break a team.

POTT. ASTRAZENECA. Team building these days is about changing team attitude, aligning team focus and outreach, and incorporating multimarket considerations in building out strategies and capabilities. Companies have to put more attention on building cross-functional team to address technology advances; ease of travel; access to more markets; managing complex, yet often similar, needs of customers; and a desire to do business in more markets because of a growing middle class that is demanding more and better healthcare options. To be successful in the global environment, companies must focus on operating efficiently and with an eye to customization to meet local market demands.

KELLEY. EPICEPT. The current concept of team building is to bring groups of people together who have a common objective and to put them in situations that require them to solve a problem together. This is achievable, but this approach doesn’t reflect building a team. Such exercises don’t build trust or engender self-investiture between colleagues. The lack of personal investment prevents a true sense of team.

BOGAN. BEST PRACTICES. Team building has always been a cornerstone of corporate success. In today’s world, global teams are more important than ever. Global teams must learn to work flexibly across time zones, cultures, continents, and communication styles; there are new complexities to team creation, team communication, team structure, and healthy team functioning.

Coaching is Imperative. Companies that do not invest in coaching global teams will lose creatively, financially, and competitively. While experts and surveys report that global teams need to have guidance to function efficiently, not all companies are on board with providing all of the necessary tools that will help global teams work effectively. In today’s competitive landscape, this is a dangerous practice that can lead to many losses across the board.

BOGAN. BEST PRACTICES. Companies recognize that cross-functional teams are a requirement for success in market entry and brand building. Consequently, there is more investment in developing training tools around communication, intranet exchange, and personality styles. However, there is little evidence that companies are investing in forward-looking cross-functional team management, health assessments, conflict resolution, network or ecosystem management, etc. This higher level of cross-functional training and development is still a great opportunity area.

KELLEY. EPICEPT. More organizations are attempting to provide training to their cross-functional teams; however most of the programs focus on communications and fall very short of providing the tools that build on an individual contributor’s strengths and, in turn, team objectives and goals.

FETROW. AUXILIUM. Some companies try to improve team functioning with in-house efforts and others hire outside consultants. Personally, I have not had great experience with in-house efforts, simply because the individuals who are trying to build a stronger team are familiar with other team members and have established relationships. This approach does not create an even playing field for all members of the team. Part of the process in team alignment is to air the dirty laundry—members must identify their own hang-ups, clean up the messes, and get rid of the baggage. Team members often are more comfortable and confident when a neutral third party is facilitating the process.

RIBOTSKY. THE CORE NATION. Companies need to seriously consider the expertise needed to work effectively on a team when filling positions and creating roles. Organizations should go one step further to create internal mentorship programs where employees can rotate in and out of functions they normally interact with. This begins the process of cross-training and is a model that meets with success. It is critically important for team members to understand how their duties affect others. This process helps make that more clear.

POTT. ASTRAZENECA. Successful cross-functional team building is less about training and more about attitude and culture building within an organization. Team structure and the inclusion of cross-functional behaviors into performance objectives are important for successful outcomes. When teams are rewarded on cross-functional activities and behaviors, they operate with a mindset that this is business as usual.

BINA. INSIGNIAM PERFORMANCE. These days the emphasis isn’t on team building; rather it’s about enhancing team performance or team effectiveness. Large, complex organizations are grappling with how to deliver higher levels of performance from individuals, teams, and even the entire enterprise. This is unprecedented in terms of historical trends and expectations. This need for a higher breakthrough level of performance is critical in new drug development these days, and teams are not going to get to those higher levels by just doing more of the same thing. It requires a whole new mindset and approach to aligning team members.

Process and Human Nature

According to Best Practices, agreeing on team operating principles and holding regular team improvement and operating reviews are successful global team operating mechanisms for working with other cultures. Cultural awareness training and short-term cross-cultural assignments also aid global team members working with different cultures. Our experts say human nature cannot be ignored as a huge factor in the effective functioning of a team. If individuals are given the opportunity to learn about the different influences of culture and language, form relationships with each other, and are given a framework to work within, global teams can flourish at a performance level never before experienced.

GUTTMAN. GUTTMAN DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES. From the late 1970s through the 1980s, teams would embark on team-building activities, such as rappelling off rocks and canoeing down a river. These were experiential exercises aimed at building rapport. While building rapport is not a bad thing, companies today need to put more focus on team alignment. There are five distinct factors that need to be addressed to achieve team alignment: strategy, business goals, roles and responsibilities, protocols, and business relationships. Team members need to reach agreement around these five factors in order to be successful. When one or more of the five is not in place, the team becomes dysfunctional. For example, if team members don’t agree on strategy or priorities, they will inadvertently compete for resources. If team members aren’t clear about business relationships, then they will revert to working in their own silos. All business teams must be aligned in all five of these areas. In today’s competitive landscape, companies don’t have the luxury of carrying dysfunctional teams.

POTT. ASTRAZENECA. AstraZeneca structures teams to support cross-functional working—from the membership and remit to workflow. We incorporate cross-functional behaviors into performance objectives and discussions, so they become the standard way of operating. Ineffective communication leads to inefficiencies, frustration, and waste. For example, when three separate teams in three parts of the world put together brand strategies focused on the same payers in our markets, we are inefficient. At AstraZeneca, we have been able to increase our effectiveness by collaborating in a single, cross-functional team that focuses on payers around the world. This single team ensures the company is not duplicating research, strategy development, or discussions that may have occurred in the former, decentralized model. The team reports back to the global business units, identifies best practices, and determines where investments should be made to maximize the value of our medicines with payers.

FETROW. AUXILIUM. It is so easy in business to forget to focus on human nature because we take it for granted, but it has such a huge impact on how people act, do what they do, and the influence they have on each other. When forming a global team, building the relationships, identifying leadership, and identifying key communications pathways are crucial. In our experience, global teams tend to do best when they can meet face-to-face once a quarter. With tight budgets, this is a challenge but it is usually time and money well spent. When a team can come get together with regular frequency they can build relationships; consequently the time in between those face-to-face meetings is that much more effective and productive. But if senior management doesn’t buy in or understand the importance of having some face time to establish those relationships, it will be difficult for teams to be as efficient and productive as they can be.

KELLEY. EPICEPT. Team leaders need to take the initial steps to build confidence and trust early on when establishing the team. This can be done by setting ground rules, making sure the ground rules are always followed so that the team members trust that their contributions are valued, and communicating openly when issues arise, which ensures solutions are developed and blame is avoided.

RIBOTSKY. THE CORE NATION. Forming the team early in the process goes a long way in avoiding problems and being able to thoroughly investigate the launch needs. Typically, teams that are pulled together consist of individuals within the organization. To help improve the process and create a long-term investment, organizations should investigate the impact of pulling individuals from maturing business units into the potential business sooner. Also, to decrease the shortage of those with early commercialization experience, companies should take the opportunity to cross-train individuals with in-line experience by sprinkling them throughout the early commercialization team. By improving this process, these individuals become more valuable to the organization and better positioned to manage brands no matter where they are in the life cycle.

BINA. INSIGNIAM PERFORMANCE. Team success boils down to three fundamental areas: cross-cultural fluency, a very strong and comprehensive face-to-face team launch, and continual touchpoints. Team members cannot be effective in a global environment unless they have a deep understanding that national differences result in perceiving the world differently. In other words, two people can assess the same situation in two entirely different ways. The team launch should take two to three days, always be done face to face, and the agenda should include hammering out and getting alignment on the project plan, as well as creating a unique team culture that borrows from the best of all of the different cultures in the room. Key pieces of superior performance are perception and intellectual effort, in other words how the team members think. The third important ingredient to success is building in continual touchpoints along the course of the project for the team.

BOGAN. BEST PRACTICES. Defining how team alignment can be improved is a complicated issue, akin to summarizing how to have a great marriage in three easy steps. Training, communication skills, rules of engagement, team structure, decision rights and processes, health checks, etc. are all tools that can be helpful.

Case Studies

  • Dairy Farmers

    Within Australia’s fast-moving, competitive dairy industry, consumers have become more and more sophisticated, with ever-increasing wants and needs. In 2004, the industry was also witnessing dairy production declining, international farm gate milk prices skyrocketing to historic highs, and record global fuel costs.

  • Mars Incorporated

    When Paul Michaels became president of Mars Incorporated in 2004, he knew that the company needed to achieve far greater growth and financial return. But he faced internal organizational challenges every bit as daunting as those he faced in the marketplace. The top team at Mars

  • Applied Biosystems

    When Catherine Burzik became president of Applied Biosystems (AB), she knew she faced stiff challenges. The company she was about to lead had been stagnant for several years, with little revenue growth and falling stock prices.

  • Mars, Inc. Latin American Division

    When Brian Camastral took over Mars, Inc.’s Latin American Division in 2005, the 3,000-associate operation had been consistently underperforming. The region was comprised of four business units: Two were losing money, one was declining, and the fourth was growing incrementally.

  • How Sabra Spreads High-Performance

    Ronen Zohar is CEO of U.S.-based Sabra Dipping Company, LLC, a leading spread and dip company known for its line of refrigerated products, including hummus, salsa, and guacamole. It operates in four countries and employs 700 people. Sabra was founded in 2007 as a 50-50 joint venture between PepsiCo and Israeli-based food manufacturer, Strauss.

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