Many businesses are now operating globally and it is now common practice to bring together
teams with members from a number of different countries. What is less common, however, is for these teams to deliver consistently high quality results, and some flop spectacularly.
This article is about what HR Directors can and should consider to ensure that their teams capitilise on their cultural differences as a vehicle for opening up thinking and coming up with innovative solutions … and do not find that misunderstandings and the constraints imposed by virtual working cause these teams to fail.
Our Global Business Environment
In a global business environment it is perilous in the extreme for corporations to be too home-country dominated. The old model of previous centuries (which essentially translated colonialism into the commercial world) - where “mother knows best” and setting up in a new country meant installing reams of expats to “run the show” – has run out of road. It is both too costly (expats after all are very expensive) and insufficiently sensitive to local cultures and needs.
There are now estimated to be over 60,000 transnational corporations, with over 800,000 foreign affiliates. It is no longer credible for an organisation to consider itself a global corporation and yet to be dominated by one nationality at the top.
“Global” is now the name of the game and companies such as BP may be listed in the FTSE 100, but (as illustrated by their recent re-branding) they have moved beyond being a “British” company and seek to develop a truly global culture.
In this environment, diversity (which at its heart is about valuing and harnessing difference) becomes the midwife of the truly modern, global corporation. A number of leading multinationals have recognised this strategic imperative and have come together to form the Global Diversity Network (Barclays, BP, Cadbury Schweppes, Deutsche Bank, Dow, Nokia, Philip Morris International, Shell, Tyco and Unilever)
Global Teams At AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca is an ideal company to illustrate the challenges and opportunities presented by global teams. The company is itself an interesting product of a global merger – with strong Swedish (Astra) and British (Zeneca) roots, and a key market in the US. Moreover, R&D is above all about creativity and innovation and therefore a function where cultural diversity can make or break success.
We will be looking in depth at one particular team. Donna Johnstone is a Global Project Director (GPD) for AstraZeneca R&D in Oncology. GPDs sit right at the heart of the development process, taking the compounds that the scientists have come up with in Discovery and deciding which (if any) should move on down the development chain through into trials and eventually launch as a new product.
Elements of diversity are built into the global products teams. The first is functional diversity – team members are drawn across more than a dozen functions (both scientific and other managerial disciplines such as legal, intellectual property, and finance).
Team members remain in their functions – and their remuneration is primarily a matter for their functional boss (a matter of some contentious debate) – and give just a proportion of their time to the Global Product team.
Donna Johnstone has an overall team of 17 people and four sub-project teams with again 15 -17 people each: about a third are women, and whilst the majority are British (Alderley Park near Macclesfield is the global centre for the company’s oncology work) there are a number of Swedes and Americans across the teams.