Putting the "I" in "Team"

Apr 01, 2008

Margaret-Ann Cole
The nimble, cross-functional team—common in other industries where speed to market is critical—is fast becoming a reality at leading pharmaceutical companies. No more throwing the product over the wall from R&D to Regulatory Affairs to Manufacturing to Quality Assurance to Sales and Marketing. Facing patent expirations, spiraling development costs, and proliferating competition, companies must now be able to move quickly on many fronts simultaneously. They must find creative ways to shorten time to market while securing regulatory approval and ensuring a favorable reimbursement environment and receptive healthcare providers.

Further, as the blockbuster business model becomes less tenable, pharma must also find ways to rapidly achieve more product successes on a lesser scale. Recognizing these imperatives, senior leaders are not only creating high-profile cross-functional teams but also are identifying future leaders partly on the basis of their teaming skills.

Football coaches are fond of pointing out that there's no I in team, but effective teaming doesn't simply mean sacrificing oneself for the greater good. For individuals, it means developing specific organizational, interpersonal, and group skills that are unfamiliar and often far removed from the skills that carried them to their present positions. In short, it means learning how to successfully fit your "I" into the cross-functional teams that pharmaceutical companies will increasingly rely on to get products to market faster.

Three simple but powerful principles can guide you in that quest to develop those teaming skills:

1. Look Both Ways

Like Janus, the ancient god of doorways depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, successful team members simultaneously focus inward on the organization as well as look outward at markets, regulators, payers, providers, and customers. Traditionally, most functions in pharmaceutical companies have focused either internally or externally. The quantitatively focused scientists in R&D concentrated on drug development while Sales and Marketing people, with their interpersonal and market-facing skills, spent most of their time talking to healthcare providers. Meanwhile, Regulatory Affairs personnel, while nominally focused outward on regulatory agencies, tended to let the science do the talking rather than cultivating relationships with regulators. Rarely, however, have these disparate groups functioned as a team that required its members to understand multiple perspectives, team up early in the development process, and leverage that understanding to speed up commercialization of products and ensure that the company is ready to seize the market from the first day of launch.

Team members must understand not only one another, they must understand the company. Pharmaceutical organizations are global, matrixed, and highly complex—it is often difficult to understand where the real levers of power lie. No matter how good you may be at scanning the horizon outside the company or handling the chief discipline involved in your function, you must be equally adept at reading the organization if you want to get anything done.

For marketing and sales executives, that means bringing to organizational dynamics the same combination of analysis and intuition that they bring to the market. For scientists and regulatory affairs executives, it means applying the same rigor to understanding organizational relationships that they apply to understanding chemical reactions or interpreting regulatory guidance.

For example, a regulatory affairs executive, having consulted closely with regulators and studied closely a recent guidance, may believe that the principles of Process Analytical Technology (PAT) and Quality by Design (QbD) embodied in that guidance have the potential to eventually lighten the company's regulatory burden and costs. The executive must not only persuade fellow team members but also know how to influence the many organizational segments—from R&D to Manufacturing, from Quality to the CFO and CEO—that must be won over in order to embark on such a paradigm-shifting approach to drug development and manufacturing.

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