Steps to get your Leadership Team ready for Further Internationalization

Theresa Sigillito Hollema and Nita Korsten

One of our international clients recently aligned with a strategy of globalization of the supply chain and standardization of their processes with the goal of improved customer satisfaction and cost savings due to efficiencies.  This seemed logical and reasonable, until looking deeply at a very decentralized, country driven organization.  How would this transformation towards a more interconnected organization happen and was the leadership team ready to become international?

The ability to successfully collaborate with people from different cultures is an essential competence when working in a global organization, and this is especially true for leaders who role model the attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, respect and curiosity of someone who is culturally competent. Stating the obvious – successful organizational change begins with the Leadership Team – we began our work with this internationally diverse team towards three objectives:

  • Develop the cultural competence of each individual.
  • Focus on the leadership diversity of the team, and leverage the diversity for the benefit of the entire organization.
  • Facilitate the team along the journey to becoming a high performance leadership team.

Developing the cultural competence
Cultural competence can be developed through experience, reflection and intention.  As the members of the Leadership Team were experienced international professionals, we focused on the latter two points: 

  • Reflection – looking back on their experiences as a means of learning and an opportunity for behavior change.
  • Intention – recognizing the difference between an international leader and local leader and developing their own leadership style to motivate, inspire and lead organizations that are diverse. This may mean letting go of what has been successful in the past, which is not always easy since their skills in the past landed them where they are today!

Through discussion, exercises and personal assessments, each team member developed a deeper recognition of their own cultural values and influences, as well as respect for their colleagues.  The vision of a culturally competent international leader was brought to their attention and will continue to be shaped as we work with the team. 

Focusing on diversity of the Leadership Team
Diversity of ideas arises from people with different backgrounds, which may be influenced by age, culture, gender, function, tenure, etc. The challenge for diverse teams is how to benefit from the variety of perspectives.  During our interviews, we heard irritations and frustrations about the type of company that each team member perceived their colleagues saw for the future.  Through the assessment, we were able to group the members into those who focused on the future exclusively (essentially the new hires) and those who wanted to hold onto the good of the past.  By giving more substantive words to these different visions we were able to facilitate a collaborative discussion that gave meaning to a more united, shared vision of the desired company culture, which was rich in the strengths of the company combined with an eye towards the future.   If only one view of the company had been put forward the vision would have been less rich with the nuances of the reality.

Becoming a High Performance Team
Fortunately, good leaders recognize the impact of a dysfunctional leadership team – organizational silos, blaming culture, lack of innovation, etc.  Leadership Teams who invest the time and focus on their own collaboration and team dynamics benefit the organization beyond their own team interactions.  As the team of our client was new, we created and facilitated moments for sharing their personal stories and reflections on what is important to each of them.  The irony is that when colleagues reveal themselves as humans, with their joys and sorrows, they are more attractive as business partners than if they remain behind professional walls. In fact, we have been requested to continue to work with the team and the CEO wants us to again create the space ‘to continue to get to know my colleagues’ and to help them continue their journey to becoming a High Performing Team.

Realistic team leaders acknowledge that the development of a high performance team taking on the challenges of a new international strategy and transformation of a company culture needs more than only a one-day offsite session.  The CEO of our client has requested for us to continue the journey with his team to help them to utilize their diversity, develop professionally as an international team and connect as the role models of the organization.   The benefits of attention to the team development significantly outweigh any costs in time and money.