Your global team may have conquered time and space, but for it to be successful, you'll have to look out for other obstaclesREADER ROI -- With corporations extending their activities across geographies, global teams have become the norm. Though technology breaks down barriers, a host of cultural challenges lurk. This article will tell you how to - Avoid the common mistakes that doom global projects to failure - Make global teams more productive forums/executive)Really, it was a simple request. Just a cellular telephone, the kind you can't avoid on any sidewalk in America. Former Oracle CIO Jerry Corvino ordered one for an IT manager in mainland China as part of a global IT implementation across 57 satellite offices of the $US7.1 billion database company. But the accounting department kicked back this particular request. The rationale: A pager would be less expensive -- why couldn't she make do with that? Corvino patiently explained that in the village where this employee lived, there was just one single wired telephone. Not one in her house -- one in the entire village. Giving her a pager wouldn't do her much good if she couldn't get access to that one telephone, would it? The moral of the story is this: Infrastructure is not the same around the world. Even something as ubiquitous as a telephone can present a challenge. And as more companies embark on global IT projects, CIOs are being asked to align technology not only across business units but also across geographies and cultures. Global teams are playing a pivotal role in guaranteeing the success of these enterprisewide initiatives. Their members are required to possess the multinational sensitivity, the cultural diversity and the shared vision to motivate local buy-in to the project -- whether it's new infrastructure technology to facilitate communication between sites or new business processes to drive down operating costs or increase revenue. Global teams, however -- whether built wholly from internal resources or supplemented with outsourced services -- are not without their difficulties. Time and distance tend to escalate problems. Technology has minimised some of these issues, but it still takes concerted effort to shift an organisation from a local mind-set to a global one. And without that shift, global teams will find it almost impossible to work in concert to achieve their goals. (For a contrary viewpoint on the value of teams, see "It Doesn't Work for Everyone" .)The Most Common Pitfall: Cultural Imperialism Cultural imperialism, the worldwide assumption that everyone thinks like you, is a major stumbling block to global teaming. It's not enough to acknowledge that cultural norms vary from country to country; you have to understand how they affect a project's dynamics. Culture colours perceptions, influences interactions and affects performance. What one culture perceives as strength, another may view as weakness. Looking for ammunition against imperialism? Terry Neill, a managing partner at Andersen Consulting's London-based change management practice, swears by the research of Dutch professor Geert Hofstede, who mapped the individual measurements of national cultures. Hofstede's five dimensions are power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance and future-orientation versus short-term perspective. "When you comprehend the cultural differences among those sitting around the table," says Neill, "you can anticipate where the areas of difficulty are likely to be." Take the different ways cultures approach conflict. Based on his experiences with global companies such as Shell Oil, Unilever PLC, General Electric. and British Petroleum, Neill observes that the British, Irish, Americans and Dutch deal easily with open argument. On the other hand, the Japanese and many other Asian cultures, whose natural style is to be more reticent and polite, feel uneasy and even threatened if caught in the middle of a dispute. Americans and Europeans on the team need to understand how their directness makes Japanese team-mates uncomfortable. Conversely, the Japanese need to understand how their reluctance to be specific about underlying issues frustrates their American and European counterparts. "East Indians tend to be too polite," observes Mike Cast, managing director for Mastek UK Ltd, the British strategic business unit of Mastek Ltd, a software factory based in Bombay, India, that exports its programming services internationally and specialises in outsourcing work to India. Cast finds that Indian programmers are reluctant to warn clients that their ideas are unreasonable, even if those ideas will undoubtedly delay the project's completion. Cast's US counterpart, Kenneth Behrendt, tells of teaching his Indian programmers how to deal with confrontation. "We worked hard to demonstrate that confrontation is good, that it creates a win-win situation," insists Behrendt, president and CEO of Majesco Software. Once programmers saw how addressing conflict helped them make positive strides with the customer, it was easier for them to be more confrontational on the next project.
Cultural differences aren't limited to international borders. "There are as many cultural issues between New Yorkers, Texans and Californians as there are between different nations," maintains Keith Glennan, director of integration and engineering for US defence contractor Northrop Grumman. California-based Northrop merged with New York-based Grumman in 1994. In quick succession it acquired three companies: Texas-based Vought Aircraft, the Maryland-based defence and electronic systems division of Westinghouse Electric and Logicon, a California-based provider of defence information technology systems and services. When the five-company global team began working on its first project, participants found that even their basic approaches to project planning differed. They disagreed on how much planning should go into the project, how rigorous it should be, even how much documentation they should provide. It doesn't matter whether you assemble the global team from participants across the country or around the world. "You need to deal with these issues openly and agree to new ground rules. Inevitably team members will have to deviate from their own cultural norms and values," advises Neill. For instance, some team members will have to learn to be less aggressive, others less circumspect. A facilitator well versed in cultural differences can be a real asset at the start of the project. As an impartial third party, he or she can help the team identify and cope with the significant differences among the ways its members deal with issues.
An outgrowth of global teaming is that it helps CIOs become globally oriented, an important asset in fostering global trade and gaining an edge in worldwide markets. "The CIO [of a multinational company] needs to have empathy for the local culture. Because when we understand each other, we make global trade that much more feasible," says Ashank Desai, chairman and managing director of Mastek Ltd. Desai's hearty endorsement of global teaming stems from his company's own success with using global teams to expand export of its software services worldwide. Over the past five years, Mastek has grown 112 per cent annually, extending its presence from the Asia-Pacific region through Europe and the United States. "That signifies that global teams are working. We could not have grown so fast if the trend wasn't in that direction," maintains Desai.
Another Common Error: Location-Centric Thinking When team members are scattered throughout the world, you can't treat everyone as if they reside in the same time zone. Jaclyn Kostner, CEO of Bridge the Distance, a Denver-based consulting and training firm specialising in enhancing human communication and trust in the virtual workplace, tells of one client whose team leader in Atlanta kicked off every week with a 7am meeting. When the company reorganised and added new people to the team, it never occurred to the team leader to reschedule -- even though one member now resided in Sacramento and another two in Denver. Imagine trying to muster energy for a teleconference at 4 or 5 in the morning. Kostner notes that she often finds global teams planning meetings on Friday morning in the United States despite the fact that it's already Saturday morning for team members in Australia. She suggests that there has to be compromise in the scheduling and location of meetings, conference calls or other forums for information exchange to allow team members an equal share of "local" comfort.
Leo Puga, the human resources manager of Hewlett-Packard's printer division in Boise, Idaho, also recommends allowing for some recovery time when scheduling a meeting where participants have to fly great distances. "You cannot send somebody from here to Japan and expect them to engage in any kind of meaningful discussion about business the minute they step off the plane. You need to give people a chance to recover," says Puga. Another common mistake with location-centric thinking is believing you can sit in your home country and dictate policy elsewhere in the world. "It's never been successful," contends Jerry Corvino. "You need a strong leader [in the region] who can raise a red flag when you start down a path that's going to cause problems that you wouldn't anticipate." The same project that had encountered telephone problems in mainland China fell behind schedule in South America as well because no one in the US had anticipated how long it would take to get a visa for a certain South American country. Corvino says that particularly in Europe -- with the upcoming transition to Euro currency, deregulation of the telecommunications industry, new social legislation and changes in labour laws -- you need people with local knowledge who understand the implications of those events and how they will impact implementation of global plans.
Acknowledging Differences: Business Styles and Protocols When you mix cultures, management styles often clash. Many consultants identify Americans with a "ready, fire, aim" approach to problem solving. "That's because we're really good at course correction and coming back around and saying we were wrong and doing it again," says Melvin Weems, a management consulting partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers who recently transferred from the United States to the firm's London offices. In contrast, Weems says, other cultures tend to tackle issues with a more cautious "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, fire" approach. You need to sensitise your global teams to the protocol differences among their participants. "When you're in Japan at a business meeting," says HP's Puga, "there's an appropriate protocol for meeting people and questioning issues. [Ignorance of that protocol] could have a very significant impact on the results of the meeting and how the results of the meeting are going to be interpreted." Puga recalls an instance when Americans inadvertently shamed Japanese team members by raising sensitive issues in an open meeting forum instead of bringing them to the attention of the appropriate Japanese manager privately. To prevent such offences, Hewlett-Packard now offers to global team members two-day courses in Japanese culture and protocol.
Mike Rose, CIO of Hewlett-Packard, sees global IT initiatives as a delicate balance between assuring the autonomy of the business unit and providing an infrastructure able to drive global change. When he came on board in July 1997, he delegated control of the global data centres to three "super-regional" IT managers -- one in Europe, one in Asia-Pacific and one in the Americas. "It was a great catalyst for teamwork," says Rose, "because each region had someone to turn to to address their specific local needs as well as help them participate in global process changes." The three regional IT managers and the business infrastructure services manager meet face to face every six weeks as a united infrastructure management team, with conference calls in between, to assist business units in coordinating global IT projects. Yet each business unit maintains the autonomy to organise its IT community to suit its own goals and operating needs. Communication styles also differ from culture to culture.
Kostner recommends that global teams establish very clear norms about communication. While Americans like to cut to the chase, Germans prefer presenting the underlying rationale before getting to the action item. Kostner suggests that to work effectively global teams need to rally around a single norm -- usually stating upfront whether the topic is an action item, who owns the action item and when it's due. This is followed by explanatory support material or further discussion.
Neill of Andersen Consulting also cites significant differences among various cultures in views about team leadership. He tells of a US client that appointed a Dutchman as head of European operations. He wore a beard, dressed casually and drove a very old automobile. When he visited the German subsidiary, he found it very difficult to be taken seriously or listened to with respect. The Germans viewed his appearance, dress and mode of transportation as a reflection of his stature and treated him accordingly. Neill advises CIOs to be cognisant of these cultural biases when recruiting global teams and selecting leaders for enterprisewide initiatives.
Team Design Is as Critical as System Design Designing an effective global team is never something to be taken lightly. It requires considerable resources and effort both from project sponsors and participants. Based on 18 years of experience helping corporations like Bristol-Myers Squib and Baxter Healthcare use multicountry teams to implement global IT programs, Pricewaterhouse Coopers' Weems has found that different countries may embrace, support and adopt a project in different ways. Weems therefore recommends incorporating diversity into the team on a number of levels: multinational, multioperational and multiple breadths of experience.
"When you're tackling a project of this scale," he suggests, "you need people on the team who understand that sometimes you have to craft your message differently or you have to build consensus differently, depending on the country you're dealing with." "Not only should you address and embrace cultural diversity," says HP's Rose, "but I would say you have to embrace the entire mosaic of affiliations." Caught up in the problems of language, culture and time zones, team members often fail to recognise the functional affiliations they share with each other. They might both be financial people, or HR people or telecommunications engineers. "If you understand the mosaic," says Rose, "you can actually use that to help bridge the other gaps like culture, language and distance." "It's important to always focus on the business case for the project," says Tom Shelman, vice president and CIO of internal information services at Northrop Grumman. "Most people want the corporation to do well. If you can show them how the change will benefit their business unit and the corporation as a whole, you'll get buy-in to the project." Shelman strongly recommends enlisting the support of senior management in every business unit to help spread the message that long-term value ultimately far outweighs any short-term discomfort.
"Don't fall into the trap of trying to make everything global," warns Corvino.
Decide what's absolutely critical to running a global business and make those things mandatory. For everything else, you must let local needs drive local parameters. Neill cautions that the values, beliefs and behaviours that each team member brings to the table are different. Their cultural context colours every interaction -- whether it's views on leadership, approaches to risk and conflicts, or any other team activity. Lack of understanding can quickly turn a $200 million project into a $400 million one. Conversely, when you educate team members on how to interpret one another's behaviour, the payoff from working well together can be enormous.
Neill insists that just as you have to recognise the differences between computer operating systems when building a network, so, too, do you need to acknowledge and accommodate the differences between individual team members. He advises CIOs to apply the same rigour to team building as they do to designing any IT project they undertake for the corporation. "Why," he asks, "do we think it's natural to invest millions of dollars to get computer systems to work together, yet we think it's unnatural to invest even a fraction of that cost in designing and educating teams on how to work together?"It Doesn't Work for Everyone Sometimes global teams succumb to inertia Not everyone embraces the idea of global teams. Doron Cohen, former vice president of IS and telecommunications for TransCanada PipeLines, rejects the notion out of hand. His entire IT organisation comprises teams that are physically located within the business units. The $12 billion, Calgary-based energy corporation has rebuilt all of its mission-critical systems, moving from mainframe to client/server, using local dedicated IT teams. "They live the business issues [of the units] on a daily basis. That gives them the strength to get things done fast," says Cohen. He also believes that you have a much better chance of gaining the business unit's buy-in to a project when the business units see the IT team is an integral part of their operation, not as strangers from corporate telling them how to do their jobs. He speaks from experience. In 1993, corporate TransCanada attempted a global initiative to implement common work processes in its marketing operations. The goal was to reduce transaction costs -- a laudable objective. But people were not prepared for change. "Everyone was protecting turf, defending their comfort zones, finding 17 reasons why it didn't work for them, finding 14 reasons why they were different," recalls Cohen. The project lingered on for two years before Cohen "put a bullet to it." Cohen suggests that any company that expects a global software system to be the impetus for changing business processes across the enterprise ought to think twice. IT can be a partner in the process, but not the driving force. For projects of that magnitude to succeed, process specialists and organisational development experts must ready the enterprise to embrace change. Then local IT teams can step in and translate that corporate vision into appropriate systems for individual business units. -- D YoungDon't Depend on Technology Virtual meetings have their own trials and tribulations Despite improvements in technology, nothing replaces old-fashioned, face-to-face contact. "Research shows that 55 per cent of our ability to understand each other comes from visual cues. Another 25 per cent comes from feelings cues -- such as asking whether or not something makes sense," says Jaclyn Kostner, CEO of Bridge the Distance, a Denver-based consulting and training firm. "Our telephone conversations rarely deal on that level. But if I can see a scowl on your face, I'm going to infer how you felt about something.
So when we start communicating by voice alone in a virtual setting, without the face-to-face context, we're basically operating at about 20 per cent effectiveness." A videoconferencing system can supplement teleconferences, e-mail, electronic chat room discussions and other vehicles for information exchange. But these media have their drawbacks. What happens when a time-sensitive fax or e-mail fails to reach its destination? Can a series of exclamation points across a page convey the same sense of urgency as a panicked look? What happens when, due to technical difficulties, one party unexpectedly drops out of a videoconference in the middle of a sensitive debate? Consultants, CIOs and participants agree that global teams still need to meet face to face on a regular basis. Only then can they come to understand each other as individuals and put the various other communication they're receiving into context.
-- D Young
Field of Teams
At companies that operate globally, CIOs are often charged with the task of aligning technology across not only business units but also countries and cultures. Global teams frequently play a key role in such efforts; their members' multinational sensitivity, cultural diversity and shared vision can help motivate local buy-in to the project at hand. That's when they work well, which is not always the case. In addition to time and distance problems, cultural issues can make it difficult for global teams to work together.
What follows are 10 strategies -- culled from discussions with consultants, analysts and global executives -- for making your global team a success.
1. Incorporate diversity. Recruit team members from across geographic lines, business functions and corporate experience. Diversity is a powerful tool when you're trying to gain buy-in to the project across the enterprise. It also brings insight into local conditions that may affect a project's success. 2.
Build trust. Take time to cement relationships among members. Plan regular get-togethers, especially meals away from corporate premises. Such activities help transform "us" and "them" into "we." 3. Create team identity. A team Web page on the corporate intranet or special programs to gain the group corporate recognition will heighten participants' sense of importance in the company.
4. Build consensus. Make sure that members at all levels share the corporate vision; otherwise, you'll keep coming back to that issue every time there's a disagreement. Don't underestimate the value of confrontation. If used correctly, it keeps issues from festering and sabotaging success.
5. Teach sensitivity. Formal instruction goes a long way in eliminating ignorance that could set a project back. When everyone is in sync about the proper protocols for processes that differ from one location to another, the project runs more smoothly.
6. Establish ground rules. To avoid misunderstandings and frustration, global teams need to follow common ground rules for communication, dealing with conflict, running meetings and other project activities. If necessary, bring in a facilitator to help identify significant differences among members and suggest the most effective rules for the group.
7. Be fair. Be consistent in compensating team members. They will talk. Boost morale by offering incentives when they meet project milestones.
8. Communicate progress. You can never communicate too much. Make sure you share critical data among team members in a timely fashion. Keep management or other interested parties aware of successes and setbacks. Toot your own horn when things go well. Solicit new ideas when you're stymied. Flag problems that need resolution.
9. Designate responsibility. Especially when time and distance separate participants, it's easy for tasks to fall through the cracks. You can avoid a lot of finger pointing if you document exactly who is responsible for what.
10. Go face to face. No matter how well you keep in touch, time and distance often cause minor problems to escalate. It's important to get global team members together in one location on a regular basis. That promotes more productive brainstorming and helps participants iron out difficulties, realign priorities and, most important, reinforce a sense of community and common purpose.
-- D Young
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