Bridging the Gap - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Bridging the Gap


Pharmaceutical Executive


Beyond a lack of agreement about team-member selection, the companies' different philosophies converged to become a source of mutual frustration in several areas. Over time, the culture clash became painfully obvious and the team derailed. In a smart attempt to get to the crux of their problems, team members gathered off-site, where the senior management and team leaders from each camp stepped to a podium for a specific purpose: to explain their respective organizational cultures, describing "the way we do things around here" and then relating that back to the alliance.

One important result of the experience was that the alliance team moved from a stubborn perspective of "Why can't you be more like us?" to realizing that the team was formed specifically because: "You're not like us—and that's okay." The point was to recognize and respect their differences and then leverage them for the good of the alliance.

The open communications enabled a newfound trust and a focus on shared values, and their collective cause became the basis for their work going forward. They acknowledged, belatedly, that perhaps if they had examined their cultural issues from the start, the team could have spent significantly less time, money and frustration and been that much further ahead on their project goals.

Getting to Know You... When examining the cultural fit of an alliance team, the objective is not to change the organizational culture of the other party. Alliances are not intended to last forever. Both organizations will retain their respective identities. Cultural differences are, at their core, differences in leadership values. It is important to acknowledge and make transparent and explicit the leadership values of each alliance partner—including the fact that those values propelled each partner to a level of success that made the alliance attractive in the first place. To do this, EquiPro frequently uses a Culture Appreciation Exercise to facilitate learning about each other's organization, separate realities from perceptions, and determine how to make differences between the two work for the alliance.

In some cases, specific process changes can set team members on the right track. For example, we worked with an alliance team that was on its way to developing a blockbuster in a niche therapeutic market. When team members came together every two months for face-to-face meetings, they seemed to operate as an integrated and compatible team. Yet the minute they walked out the door, they were already feeling the tug of their own organizational cultures. Despite their satisfaction in the team setting, members on each side faced line managers who wanted to wield more power over the alliance and perceived "the other company" as having conflicting goals and interests from their own. Once team members were "back home," the strength of their organizational cultures held sway. Frustration set in and team trust began to erode.

EquiPro's Team Effectiveness/Cultural Diagnosis brought this to the surface. We then put in place a more structured communications and decision-making process that helped to keep the team more aligned and counter-balance their cultural pulls.

Back to the Future Alliance teams are, by definition, temporary in nature—even if "temporary" can mean up to a decade or more. Still, in terms of the influence team leaders and members have on the outcome of their business charter, an alliance team operates no differently than an individual company. A leadership "loop" exists within every organization: leadership values and behaviors establish a particular organizational culture; that culture, in turn, influences the motivation and capabilities of employees charged with getting the work done; their level of motivation and capabilities determines the level of performance; and the performance results feed back into the loop to corroborate or modify existing leadership values and behaviors.

Within a single organization, the perpetual domino effect of this model is straightforward. Extended to an alliance team, however, two separate cultures are in play and, where disparities exist between them, two sets of messages are delivered and conflict is bound to emerge. Examining cultural disparities—as well as areas of like-mindedness and similar modus operandi—enables a team to mesh and come "into the loop" with a consistency of purpose and influence.


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