Today’s pharmaceuticals industry is dominated by major multinational corporations with resources spread all over the globe. One of the major challenges they face is finding ways to leverage those resources effectively. Many of the key functions or subsidiaries in these organizations aren’t even located in the same country, making it difficult for them to collaborate effectively.
Unfortunately, collaboration critical to their success in the future. Cross-functional teams that cut across traditional “siloed” departments can enhance their effectiveness by breaking down the organizational barriers. Sharing information faster and drawing upon a broader range of perspectives enables these companies to anticipate potential problems before they become impediments and get a more accurate view of the needs of the market.
Virtual teams are also especially valuable for pharma companies, allowing them to build teams with the right combination of skills to work together even if the members are located thousands of miles from one another. They also allow for diversity of thought and opinion, leveraging the global knowledge base within the organization.
The Challenge of Global Teamwork
While implementing cross-functional and virtual team structures allows pharma companies to draw upon their globally distributed resources, these teams pose a few significant challenges. Most of these organizations have long utilized “siloed” structures that emphasized top-down decision making. As a result, many team leaders and team members have limited exposure to other departments within the company.
The problem with this situation is twofold: first, few leaders understand how the constituent parts of the company interact with each other to contribute to business success. This makes it difficult for them to become truly agile leaders capable of connecting, adapting, and delivering because they lack the situational awareness and systems thinking needed for strategic planning.
Second, many people aren’t accustomed to working within cross-functional team structures in which decision making authority is distributed rather than hierarchical. Each member may bring different goals based on their experience and departmental needs, but a cross-functional team needs to be able to establish common ground for truly global collaboration. There may be differences in people's’ communication style based on organizational culture, making it vital for leaders in a cross-functional team to be able to use influencing strategies to build consensus and resolve conflict productively.
Fortunately, pharma companies can better prepare their employees to become leaders by designing development programs that emphasize the skills needed for cross-functional success. Focusing on skills like building trust and accountability, influencing without authority, and improving communication can help ensure that leaders will be able to get the most out of their teams, both on a local and global scale.
Making Global Teamwork Work: Bayer Pharmaceuticals’ Biostatistics Group
The Global Biostatistics group of Bayer Pharmaceuticals found itself facing a competitive environment that was not only more global than in the past, but also more demanding and ambiguous. As the corporation made a greater effort to leverage its global resources by introducing new processes, cross-functional teams, and virtual teams, those changes presented leaders within the company with a new set of challenges they weren’t always prepared to handle.
Most of the team leaders within the Biostatistics group had a background as statistical analysts. While they understood their work as individual contributors, they often lacked the teamwork and project management skills needed to lead teams that included people who did not report to them directly or were located remotely.
Working with OnPoint Consulting, Bayer’s Global Biostatistics group implemented a development program specifically targeted to the needs of its project team leaders. The program was based on interviews with a cross-section of statistical analysts who would soon be taking on global-based leadership roles and aimed at providing them with the skills and knowledge they would need for success.
Participants in the program found that it increased their confidence, communication, and coordination skills, allowing them to better manage the cross-functional tasks and virtual team projects they took on in their new positions.
Bayer Pharmaceuticals’ Global Biostatistics is just one example of how the pharma industry is adapting to the needs of today’s dynamic global economy. By leveraging interdepartmental resources distributed across operations in all parts of the world, companies can target their biggest problems with their most talented and capable personnel. With a greater diversity of thought and open-ended approach to collaborative problem solving, pharma companies can position themselves for sustainable success in the future.