ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

February 1998


Business And Sports, One-On-One

Measurement On The High Seas

Scientists Develop Formula For Multinational Teamwork

Part-Time Statistics For Full-Time Results

Volunteers Wanted: Must Be Team Player, Success Minded


Chasing Good Examples
by Peter Block

Individual Change Key To Org. Change
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Scientist Develop Formula For Multinational Teamwork

When most people have a question for a teammate, they probably shout down the hall, page the next office - or if it's not that urgent, a quick email may suffice. But what if that person's office isn't down the hall, but across the globe? You could still pick up the phone - if only you spoke Japanese.
Developing a sense of teamwork can be a difficult challenge among today's multinational corporations. In addition to the geographic distance and language barriers, there are many cultural influences and stereotypes that affect the way we perceive others and work together. What are the elements that go into the development of a successful multi-national team? One company developed an internal case study to find out.
The company, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, designed a two-year study to discover the elements that create a sense of "esprit de corps" among its operations in different countries. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, with operations in the United States, France and Japan, Sandoz believed its separate, autonomous laboratory operations in each of the countries was causing the company to lose their competitive advantage.
In order to achieve efficiencies and eliminate redundancies in their operations, management wanted to transform the company into a truly "global operation" and create a sense of teamwork among the company's 10,000 worldwide employees. Sandoz wanted to replace the long-standing internal competitive atmosphere that existed between operations in each country with a concentration on competing with their external competitors.
Steven Smith, an associate director at Sandoz, along with a team of consultants developed a model program to be tested in the company's Drug Safety Department. The program would study how three different multinational teams would handle a common project. The hope was that by studying the team processes in successful and not so successful efforts Smith could provide guidelines for any multinational team.
Thirty senior level scientists drawn from all sites within the company were chosen for participation in the program. The scientists were asked to update the Drug Safety Development Manual into a document that could be used at all corporate sites. The Manual contains the standard operating procedures for the Drug Safety Department, which tests the safety of chemical compounds prior to their use in drug tests.
At that first session the group was broken into three sub-teams containing a mix of nationalities and technical specialties. The three work teams were monitored, but top management gave them no directives.
Not only did the group have to deal with language and cultural differences; there were technical differences as well. The group consisted of toxicologists, chemists, physicians, pathologists, biologists and statisticians. Individuals with these kinds of backgrounds often differ in their approach to scientific research, decision making and problem solving.
Shortly after the project was initiated, Sandoz merged with Ciba-Geigy to create Novartis. The merger created the world's leading life sciences company with divisions in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and agribusiness. Now, the project took on new importance. Not only did management want to create a team atmosphere among the four laboratory operations; eventually they would want to create a team atmosphere among Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy employees. The project was continued and the findings were used to develop an action plan for the integration of the two companies.
The teams only met face-to-face every six months. At the third group session, some initial results in the development of cross-cultural teams emerged. One of the three teams was doing extremely well in completing the assigned task. Evidence of their success was that their results were published in a refereed scientific journal. Another team completed the work with good, but not outstanding results. The third team, according to management "spun around in circles, never finding a common goal or purpose." Smith found that factors other than the expected cultural differences were affecting the development of a team atmosphere and hence the success of the teams.

The Right Stuff
One of the characteristics of the most successful team was the development of a mutually agreed upon, clearly defined agenda. "The team was able, at that first meeting, to achieve buy-in from all members on what the work entailed and who would complete what tasks," says Smith.
In addition, regular communications between the face-to-face sessions was a crucial factor in the success of the team. The most successful team also had the most videoconferences, audio conferences and emails. "Technology makes distant teams possible, but it is not sufficient alone for successful team development," comments John Bing of ITAP, one of external consultants working with Smith. "The successful team used all the communications tools at their disposal to get the work done. Regular email, telephone conferences and video conferences facilitated good communication within the team and kept them on the path towards completing the project."
The other important element to emerge as an indicator of team success was the existence of a strong leader on the most successful team. Smith describes this as a key to success in that "the strong leader was able to keep the team moving forward throughout the two year project."
All of these factors were crucial in the development of a team atmosphere that crossed the geographic and cultural boundaries. Smith said "The strong leader, clear agenda and good communication helped to build a sense of trust and camaraderie among the team members even though they met face-to-face only every six months and faced strong cultural differences in the way they typically approach project work."
Novartis feels the project was successful because they now have tremendous insights into the ingredients that go into the development of a team atmosphere. Smith also reports that he received positive feedback from all the team participants. "They understood the meaning and importance of teamwork to the organization. Even those members on the least successful team learned how to begin to overcome the cultural differences for the good of the team and the company."
Novartis discovered that with the right elements, the company could successfully develop a formula for fostering teamwork among multi-national operations.

February '98 News for a Change | Email Editor


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