Bridging the Gap

Feb 01, 2005

Case Study: A Tale of Two Cultures
In the highly competitive arena of pharmaceutical development and marketing, organizations aiming to keep pace must look beyond their own backyards. Alliances between pharma and biotech companies, or between big pharmas and small, are commonplace and increasing. The logic behind such teaming is clear: Each partner brings something of value to the table and, working together, they create (at least theoretically) a stronger force and position themselves for greater results through strategic collaboration. As pipelines need fuel to sustain profitability and growth, organizations look to ensure competitive advantage by joining with an ally to co-develop and co-promote products, leveraging each other's strengths and building on mutual opportunities.

We understand why alliances are formed. The continuing question is: How can companies best prepare and sustain their alliance teams for success?

One of the biggest challenges in creating successful alliance teams is the ability of brand and senior management from each company to understand and manage the issue of cultural compatibility. "It takes two to tango," says the old adage. But what happens if one partner excels at tap-dancing, while the other prefers a stately waltz? At best, there's the chance for each to learn some new steps; at worst, the partners won't even agree on what tune to play.

Reading the Culture
Culture is "the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts." Or, as Marvin Bower, former managing director of McKinsey & Company once said: "It's the way we do things around here." Extending to alliances, it's how the behaviors, values, and operating procedures of two separate entities interact.

Effective teamwork doesn't happen by accident. Ignoring cultural issues overlooks the fact that however strategic and viable the mission at hand, it's up to the people involved in the alliance team, with all their individual talents, skills, foibles, and tendencies, to align and move forward on the shared agenda thrust upon them. The lawyers who wrap up the deals on alliance contracts are understandably focused on the bottom line—specifically, how will this deal enhance the company's financial performance? Meanwhile, the joint team tapped to carry out the deal is subject to a host of pressures, the most fundamental of which is that their ability to get work done together—as a team—will determine their ultimate success.

Once a deal is in place, close and immediate attention to potential cultural issues confronting an alliance team offers a huge jump-start toward success. Too often, however, no attention is paid. The alliance is announced. Individuals from each side are thrown, willingly or otherwise, into the fray. Groups of functional experts from each company are now expected to work in lockstep, as a team—collaborating, communicating, managing conflict, making decisions, effecting strategy—without regard to how such operational procedures are normally conducted within each respective camp. Certain "mechanical" processes, such as forecasting, budgeting, information technology systems, usually have to be put in place right away. Yet the team itself is expected to "bond" and "grow together" without even the corporate equivalent of a ceremonial "Kumbaya" around the campfire to commemorate the union.

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