Putting the "I" in "Team"

April 1, 2008
Margaret-Ann Cole
Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Pharma is embracing the cross-functional team. But that doesn't mean that you must blend in with the sheep. Putting your best foot forward strengthens the team...and you.

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.

Margaret-Ann Cole

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.

2. Know Thyself

Self-knowledge is indeed the beginning of wisdom, but it is difficult to put that wisdom to work. It's not enough to understand how the organization or the external environment works, or even to understand the people you're dealing with. You must also know authentically who you are—your values, motives, personality—and be able to manage the dynamics of a wide range of interpersonal encounters based on that self-knowledge.

When you know who you are, you can bring your authenticity to bear in whatever way is called for by the context. This ability is emphatically not a chameleon-like talent for pleasing people. Rather, it is an ability to flex your personal style according to the situation. An encounter with a fellow team member, a regulator, a payer, or the CEO is not just about that other person—it's about that person and you. Salespeople, for example, certainly understand that to be effective, they must take into account the personality of the person they're dealing with as well as the circumstances of the encounter. The best salespeople, however, also understand themselves and draw on that understanding to genuinely engage other people.

As a member of a cross-functional team, with its hitherto unfamiliar internal as well as external relationships, you may need to be direct, inquiring, reflective, facilitative, accepting, or confrontational, as the circumstances require. But whatever style you use must be based on an inner core of self-knowledge. Many organizations provide executive coaches for their leaders, but how many really provide those leaders with the freedom to understand who they really are? This may seem like the soft stuff, but it offers solid payback.

3. Know Your Team

No one knows better than you what you bring to the team in the way of skills and knowledge—and what you lack. But you should also analyze what competencies the team as a whole possesses. Given the team's charter, such as speeding time to market, does this particular group of individuals collectively have all of the disciplinary bases covered? Does each member have the necessary interpersonal and organizational skills? If there are gaps in the team's competencies, can those competencies be developed by current team members or should additional members be sought?

Consider, for example, a cross-functional team charged with educating payers and providers about the efficacy and superiority of a drug currently in development. The goal, of course, is to promote a favorable reimbursement environment and solid market acceptance well in advance of the drug's approval, although it is only after approval that reimbursement can begin. By preparing the way for the broadest possible launch, the team is aiming not just at speed to market but also speed to profit.

To successfully educate payers and providers, the team will need competencies in the product's science, its regulatory prospects, competitive intelligence, marketing, and more. Just as importantly, the individual team members who can provide those competencies must also possess the interpersonal skills that enable the team to seamlessly integrate those competencies into a unified, persuasive message and communicate it.

Toward the I-Team

Numerous techniques exist for making sure individuals and teams have the right competencies and interpersonal skills—360-degree reviews, individual assessments, self-assessments, and competency models. Coaching, feedback, and team-building exercises can also be used to deepen and broaden interpersonal and group skills that will facilitate better teamwork and more productive encounters with external constituencies. And for those individuals with the courage to embrace it—and organizations with the courage to let them—authentic self-knowledge, along with its demonstrable return on investment, is readily attainable through proven techniques of self-discovery.

These skills—the ability to look internally and externally, to manage the dynamics of a wide range of interpersonal encounters based on deep self-knowledge, and to understand and acquire the full range of requisite competencies for your team—mark the difference between a technically competent executive and a high-potential leader in tomorrow's team-driven pharmaceutical organization.

Margaret-Ann Cole is US practice leader, organization development at YSC. She can be reached at margaret-ann.cole@ysc.com