As an organization expands and globalizes, it’s natural and even necessary for departments and roles to become more professionalized. Startups often put team members in dynamic roles and ask them to “wear many hats,” but evolving into an international enterprise requires focused teams working on diverse and specialized projects. If not managed properly, you end up with an uneven and unwieldy structure.
But with a thoughtful blend of innovation and intuition, teams work smarter, communication and morale thrive, and your business scales organically. Here’s how to get there.
Unify Your Systems and Save the Tedium for the Machines
As your team becomes more global, it’s important to ensure geographically dispersed groups work in unified systems. Approaching the mundane details with thoughtfulness can pay dividends. Travel, for example, inevitably becomes an integral part of the business. In the case of intive, our interdependent network has offices in more than half a dozen countries and does work in even more parts of the world. Needless to say, our teams are constantly on the move.
A travel protocol followed by every office may seem quaint, but the impact is profound. Following the same steps when making travel plans, no matter who you are, is among the protocols that speak to who we are as a company. It goes beyond keeping people from spending excessive time building itineraries and identifying the right person to sign off, although that’s part of it. More importantly, it creates an essential, underlying rhythm in the company that shapes our DNA.
Protocols that fit into a company’s ethos and philosophy have the power to close communication gaps and mitigate against perceived geographical or hierarchical advantages across the organization. Once agreed upon and implemented, protocols help foster not only a sense of unity, but no less important, it helps each individual see how they are a key component of a dynamic enterprise.
But creating sensible protocols is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes managing a workforce that’s spread around the world. A growing, global enterprise also needs to be constantly looking for opportunities to automate tedious processes as well as evaluating the automation processes it puts in place. A task like data-entry, for example, doesn’t require a back-end software engineer with a decade-plus of experience. It can get in the way of tasks that use more critical thinking, creativity, and humanity – the kinds of things that have the potential to deliver far greater impact on a business.
Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey from 2018 found that robotic process automation adoption led to 20% full-time employment capacity by robots. Tasks that might be considered for automation include number crunching, the preliminary phases of recruitment, and even project monitoring. But the idea, ultimately, is not to eliminate jobs, since automation only has so much power to scale an organization. Rather, by choosing the right processes and tasks to automate, talented people have more time to spend on the tasks that require uniquely human skills, such as networking, strategizing, conceptualizing, and building relationships.
Then again, as a leader, you must have a soft touch and the intuition to understand: The responsibility, or even the opportunity to innovate will intimidate some of your team. The good news is, a thriving global enterprise needs more than just innovative thinkers.
Role Swapping and Departmental Cross-Pollination
A significant risk that comes with specializing your global workforce is siloing: Teams do things each in their own way, making communication disparate and perhaps even openly hostile. A simple truth must be instilled from the top down: that each team’s success will ultimately depend on the success of other teams. This makes the relationships between teams of the utmost importance.
Communication problems will inevitably arise, putting a strain on the relationship between teams. One way to nip this problem in the bud is to temporarily swap the leaders of the two teams. This gives each team the chance to see the perspectives of the other. The source of the misunderstanding is often quickly discerned. In some cases, breakthrough insights are made. Even better than to react is to a foster a culture where crippling miscommunications are less likely to happen.
In a global enterprise that communicates well within itself, those at the top are not the only ones sharing information between teams. Rather, cross-departmental communication happens at every level — as well as between every level. In our case, everyone in the global network has access to everyone else — whether it’s a sales executive in Buenos Aires or a receptionist in Munich. Besides the projects that bring teams together, events, meetups, or even periodic check-ins are effective ways to facilitate connections within your organization. It’s most effective to design these things in a way that allows people to build genuine, organic relationships, no matter who they are in the company. Chemistry can form in curious ways.
The incredible possibility of unlikely bonds can inspire a company to experiment with new approaches to structure. Making unorthodox leadership appointments, for example, presents an opportunity to innovate. Leadership is a transferable skill, which we’ve learned time and again at intive. Our head of HR, Tomasz Krawczynski, had no prior experience or training in human resources before his current role. Tomek (as we call him), however, has had a successful career leading and growing businesses. He was one of five board members at intive when he offered himself up to fill the vacancy that had emerged.
Thanks to Tomek’s underlying understanding of business and his knowledge of how to orchestrate — not to mention the fact that most people seem to get along with Tomek — his transition into the role came quite naturally. Tomek and his department continue to thrive with this arrangement. And a thriving HR department goes a long way for managing a global enterprise.
Ultimately, a company cannot be afraid to experiment with a new approach. The traditional pyramid structure of a corporate entity has its limitations. This is why it’s useful for us to think of ourselves, rather, as a network. Think of it in terms of physics: Tearing down the pyramid creates more surface area within your organization, which means more contact with the outside world. After all, a company’s ability and opportunity to innovate is limited by the amount of contact it has with the outside world.
As an enterprise becomes global, it pays to be proactive to preserve and foster the vitality that’s needed to scale effectively. A thoughtful mix of innovation and intuition will allow you to get the job done, and help you discover new unrealized value along the way.
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