In technology, teams are tops. And for the most innovative companies, U.S.-only teams are old hat. Global teams are the rage. Consider the following:
In Penang, Intel taps the talents of top Malaysian engineers, not only by hiring them as employees but also by helping them launch their own businesses-and then hiring the new firms as contractors who at times work alongside Intel’s own employees.Engineers from Colorado, Australia, Germany, India and Japan converge on a hotel in trendy Los Gatos, Calif. This isn’t a vacation but a rare face-off between members of a Hewlett-Packard software team. In Gemenos, France, a half-dozen French engineers at Gemplus, a leading supplier of smart cards, are managed by an American who speaks only enough French to converse with a waiter. His counterpart at Gemplus’ research lab in Redwood City, Calif., is a Frenchman who manages a group of Americans.
The spread of global teams is probably inevitable, given the ease and inexpensiveness of communications. It also helps that engineers and scientists around the world share the same basic education. Many multinationals, meanwhile, run worldwide training programs that further the trend toward a shared mentality among the world’s technical elite.
To be sure, there are plenty of barriers to global teamwork. Look at the life of Radha Basu, who manages Hewlett-Packard software teams that stretch across six countries and 15 time zones. Just communicating is a challenge. She tries to visit each piece of every team four times a year, flying more than 100,000 miles. She’s on the road so much that she frequently sends a single five-minute-long voice mail to hundreds of people.
Though all her business is conducted in English, this common language can obscure cultural differences. When talking to an engineer in Brazil about deadlines, she must realize that a due date of Monday may mean that code will arrive any time that week. “By contrast, when one of my engineers in Germany commits to a day,” she says, “he usually gives me a time of the day he’ll deliver.”
Jealousies across cultures can also undermine teamwork. In developing countries, engineers at some multinationals may resent their much-better-paid teammates in the United States and Europe. At one big disk-drive company, engineers in Thailand and Malaysia provide crucial process innovations that make mass production of new drives possible. Yet they fume privately that their American teammates consider them less creative and resist giving them more demanding assignments.