Last week I worked with a professional services group whose goal is to build themselves into a truly global firm.
They operate now as a number of mostly independent local operations, collaborating and referring work to each other when opportunities arise. As a percentage of total revenue, cross-border assignments are still quite small. Becoming a global firm would give them the opportunity to match the globalization of their client base, and win more of the larger projects which these clients offer. A strong business case.
A one-team culture would support this aspiration, as it would in many organizations. A common complaint I hear when clients describe their organization is that it is 'full of silos'. Silos by geography, by function, and product line all limit an organization's ability to service clients effectively, transfer best practice and save costs by undertaking specific work in geographies where it is most economical. Rationally all this makes sense, but from the human perspective, operating as one team across boundaries is not a easy undertaking.
The further away we feel from someone, the harder it is to work effectively in a team with them, to look after their well being and support their successs. 'Us' and 'them' thinking creeps in quickly. I offer a few ideas to consider if you are working to build a one-team culture.
1. "Who do I identify with?". Instinctively, people will tend to identify most with those who are located closest to them because this co-location gives the opportunity to get to know colleagues on a personal level. A one-team strategy needs to create lots of opportunities to build community, and build pride in the larger identity. Technology makes this easier today, but it requires active planning because it won't happen automatically. The occasional conference call with half the participants silent will not do it.
2. Generosity. Some people are willing provide opportunities and support to cross-silo colleagues without necessarily knowing how or when they will get it back. People with this mind-set build networks easily, and are likely to produce the early wins in a one-team strategy. These are the heroes to seek out and reward, give them air cover while they show others how it works.
3. Aligned objectives. I have found this to be the most important process to review to achieve a one-team culture. The conversations about what should be measured, and how the objectives of one function can support those of another, surface the areas where people will naturally find themselves working against one another.
In the group with whom I was working last week, I found a shared vision and a high level of good will. Sometimes, especially if you sit in a position at the center, one can wonder why globaization is not happening more quickly, given these ingredients. It is easy to underestimate the extraordinary effort required to overcome the natural tendency to align with those who are close by and to become overwhelmed by the local and immediate priorities. Building a plan which specifically addresses the cultural element of the vision will help close the gap between aspiration and reality.