Page 2 of 4  < Back   Next >

Helping Global Teams Deliver [Cont]

The Practical Implications Of Global Teamworking

So, it’s goodbye to long term expats, and it’s hello to shorter term assignments, lots of

travel and virtual working. Leadership sssis no longer about working with a bunch of people who think and behave like you do and are based in the adjoining office. The complexities need working through.

Best practices that apply to any team also apply to global teams but cultural differences add another layer of complexity, so team members need to allow sufficient time up-front to discuss how they’re going to work together. For instance, it may sound simple but it’s

essential to create a supportive environment and reach agreement on how members communicate with each other, conduct meetings and make decisions. Approaches to these basic management procedures vary considerably from culture to culture.

Choosing Team Members

Traditionally, due to limited resources GPDs have just taken whomever the functions nominate for their team, but Donna says” I worked hard to get diversity in this team”. She included two Swedes who are over on secondment to Alderley Park.

Donna also points in particular to two unusual choices. She deliberately chose someone from outside the Pharmaceutical industry as her overall project manager. Paul Edwards had a career in the British Army, but what he lacked in detailed knowledge of the industry, he more than made up for with his project management skills. As Donna observes: “He brought a real rigour to our decision points and we had risk assessments up to our eyeballs. He made sure that we were absolutely clear on when we needed to make go/ no go decisions – I’m not saying that we wouldn’t have got there on our own, but it would have taken us longer.”

It was another decision to step outside the usual selection pool that brought the most dramatic time savings (and time to market is perhaps the key determinant of success in the pharmaceuticals industry). Donna describes Andrew Hughes, the medic on her team, as “not a card carrying oncologist”. It was Andrew’s idea whenever possible to use volunteer trials (for instance on healthy AstraZeneca employees) to establish some basic data on drug blood levels, rather than only do patient trials. This has dramatically reduced the timing of these first phase one trials from a period of two years down to six-twelve weeks.

Donna is clear therefore that it was vital to the success of her team that she brought together participants who not only brought the required technical skills but also a diverse range of experiences and therefore outlooks. It was as important, of course, that those participants also had “good interpersonal skills – people who will support each other if someone is struggling and challenge in a non-aggressive way – and have a “can do attitude.”

Language and behaviours at meetings

British and American executives probably don’t realise how much less complexity they have to deal with because the ‘lingua franca’ today is their own language. In English the subject, verb and object are usually at the beginning of a sentence and the rest is secondary information. This allows English speakers to interrupt each other more freely without losing too much of the overall meaning. On the other hand, in German and some major Asian languages, the verb (and the tense) is at the end of the sentence. Consequently, people from these cultures may find it very difficult to interrupt a discussion, as they are not used to doing so in their own native language.

People who feel free to interrupt usually dominate team meetings and do not allow non-native English speakers to participate fully in discussions. Consequently, minority views may not be heard. It’s quite common to observe non-native English speakers saying absolutely nothing during a meeting.

Conversely, where teams are aware of the challenges of working in a second (or third) language (and the need for time to think, preparation and indeed stamina) they can turn this potential barrier to team working to their benefit.

Having Swedes in the project team has in Donna’s view, the merit of “making you more careful about both what you say and how you say it.” She is clear, however, that spending time ensuring that there is a common understanding about what is meant (for instance) by a term such as “goals” is vital in any account – regardless of the particular language.

She describes as one of her diversity mistakes early in her career, making the assumption that a team of British and American scientists had the same understanding of what was meant by the term “deadline”. “For, the Brits missing a deadline would be a major calamity – next to death – for the Americans a deadline was something they would be “shooting” for – great if you hit it but not a disaster if you don’t.”

Reprint credit: This article originally appeared in Profiles in Diversity Journal in March/April 2004 and a shorter version appeared in theHRDIRECTOR as Midwifery for Global Organisations: Helping Diverse Teams Deliver Issue 3, February 2004