(co-author: Ian M Clark)
The following is the last of 3 parts of an article on the challenges around managing the global transfer of innovation in today’s businesses. It was originally written for and published in the “SOFW Kosmetikjahrbuch 2014”. Parts 1 and 2 were posted here in July and September respectively.
What to do about it
This is the third and final part of our series of ‘managing innovation in the global market place. As stated in the previous blog postings speed of innovation is vital in today’s fast-moving world. Global organisations often attempt to achieve that speed by creating a new product in one place then replicating it in others – often called Technology Transfer. In the first part we have looked at a case study and it became obvious what he issues were. we have covered the key factors for virtual teams. In this part we conclude with recommendations related to the organisational as well as leadership aspects of the theme.
In our experience that the most important elements for resolving the issues are as follows:
Early appreciation at top of organisation of need to manage globally
Global projects by their very nature get attention at the top of the organisation. Too often that attention focuses on the potential benefits and costs, and overlooks the complexity of the human factors involved. Not only selection (and training) of the project leader but also clear messages to the whole organisation demonstrating overt commitment and support from the top of the organisation and from the regional parts is essential. Members of a virtual global team have to work in new ways, including balancing their local and global roles, and this must be supported by direct and indirect colleagues.
Training of leaders of virtual teams
The greatest pitfall some companies run into is the assumption that a project leader who has done a superb job in leading a local project team is well suited to leading a virtual team. We consider it essential to provide appropriate training for a project leader working with virtual teams in order to achieve effectiveness.
Training in cross-cultural understanding and acceptance
Not only project leaders but all who are involved in virtual teams working across regions and cultures should have a good appreciation of cultural differences, their pitfalls and also their benefits in terms of richness. Understanding of national cultures and the organisational cultures and politics are essential, at least by the project leader, so that not only are the pitfalls avoided, these external factors can be harnessed to assist the project.
Local commitment to support members of virtual teams
Whichever way the nomination process works for members who have to represent local interests in a global virtual team, in the end the project leader has to ensure, as mentioned before, that the local management is fully committed to the project and gives the appropriate empowerment to the representative in the team, which may be above that normally delegated to the member in his “day job”.
In the same way as for project management, communication needs special attention in order to ensure that messages are spread throughout the team are understood despite the language barriers and that all members involved are kept up-to-date through frequent good-quality interaction with at least the team leader.
Excellent project management
It goes without saying that project management should be at its best working in such circumstances in order to maximise the chances for success. Sometimes a refresher for the project leader can be valuable, even when he is experienced.
Most projects benefit from managing their stakeholders. In global projects this is paramount, given the complexity of the cultural diversity, the limited amount of face-to-face discussions, and of course the size and cost of the project. Early identification of stakeholders and proactive discussion with each are essential. Not only does this make their motives better understood by the team, it also raises the stakeholders’ appreciation of the team member who interviews him as an individual (this is not always the project leader!) and his understanding of the project as a whole. Good stakeholder management will never eliminate political games in an organisation but it does enable the project team to minimise disruption from them and in some cases to participate in a manner beneficial to the project.
We recommend therefore that when setting up a global project, particular care is taken over the selection of the leader. He needs to be skilled in project management and in the global and virtual aspects mentioned above. Training in these, and a refresher in project management, are a most worthwhile investment. Awareness training of those in the organisation above and alongside the members of the virtual team is essential. And of course the team members themselves should be trained. This training can be most effective right at the start of the project, when it becomes part of the building of the team and its immediate colleagues. The cost of the training will be a very small fraction of the cost of the project, and may have a much greater return on investment than the overall project!
Please contact the author if you like to get more information on any of the aspects of building effective global virtual teams or any other points mentioned, or feel free to write a comment on the post below.