cross-cultural team disaster, international business

Susan let out a deep, anguished sigh as he looked at the competitive intelligence report generated by her global intelligence-gathering team. It wasn’t what she was expecting to read and certainly not what an International Marketing VP would want to pass on to the company CEO and the Board of Directors. Instead, it read like something a college sophomore would write – before heading to the bar to drink with his buddies. It was poorly written, with only some superficial competitive analysis and no strategic insights from the team members based in different offices around the world. Susan had handpicked this team from her most promising marketing stars from the various offices. She had assigned leadership to her right-hand man, Derek. Now Susan needed to find out what went so wrong on such an important company initiative.

Derek was clearly uncomfortable as Susan knocked on his office door holding the CI report in hand. As the company’s Director of Business Insights, Derek had such a strong command of data collection and statistical analysis. But this project had gotten out of control. The team members had given it little more than a passing concern. They didn’t provide any information that Derek couldn’t have collected from some basic website searches. Derek wanted to collect data from across the entire global operations to better understand where sales were losing to competitors. But no information was searchable by any commonly defined fields in the company’s CRM or product development software.

Derek was at a loss to why he was unable to motivate this team to help him. Susan realized that she should have been paying closer attention to the details of this project and its progress updates over time. It was easy to get lose in the day-to-day operational issues and constant changes within the company. Here are some issues that were uncovered and how Susan might address them:

Important Projects Need a Clear Executive Mandate

Many international companies today rely on matrix organizational structures to geographically manage people and functionally manage projects. This can get confusing especially when the team member feels most accountable to their local boss rather than for the results of a company-wide project. A project as important as Competitive Intelligence needs the International Marketing VP’s sponsorship. Susan should reach back out to the team’s members and their country managers to reaffirm her interest and expectations of the project. This leads Susan to another key issue:

International Teams Need Clear (& Realistic) Project Objectives and Scope

Derek may not necessarily be the right person to lead this group. Data analysis is valuable… when data can be uniformly collected from across the company and the market. Now many companies have invested heavily to align internal systems across all of their international operations. And there are normally industry analysis reports available for purchase. Derek might also be able to outsource the CI work to a firm specializing in this type of data collection.

But like most companies this one is hoping for at least some organically-based CI collection. Then CI team members need very clear and realistic project expectations, including the types of information they should collect and how they should collect it. For instance, CI can come from asking new clients about the other competitors that lost the business to your company. CI includes environmental shifts in the market. What are the in-country trends in key markets and even peripheral markets? The company doesn’t need widely available information already published in the media. It needs actionable information that keeps the company ahead of the competition.

Shine the Spotlight on the Local Team as a Reward for Great Insights

One of Derek’s challenges has been that his CI team has never actually met in person. They not only don’t know the rest of the team well, but don’t feel loyalty to its leader. They associate instead with their local team and its success and failures. Susan and Derek can use this affiliation preference to their advantage.

CI insights can come from a variety of sources and it works best when everyone is on the look out for the next important clue to the local market and competitors. The local team member may not want to be highlighted as different from their colleagues (especially in parts of Asia). Instead, a local team might be recognized by company headquarters for their superior collection of CI and share their best practices company wide.

I hope you found this article helpful. Tune regularly for new articles on how to help your internationally expanding company. If you need help with your global expansion, please contact me.

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