I was reading an article “Information infrastructure centrality in the agile organization” by Morris and McManus. They made an interesting point that as globalization took companies into less developed parts of the world, the availability of information technology infrastructure would start to become a limiting factor in integration. Those parts of the world without the right technology would be unable to operate the complex business processes, systems and communication tools necessary to become fully integrated.
Eleven years later, whilst some infrastructure issues persist, it is usually possible to connect to the Internet and to operate technologies from most locations. I had better 3G coverage half way up a volcano in Indonesia last month than I do in many parts of the UK!
But it made me think about the same principle applied to skills. As we become more globalized, we connect more frequently with colleagues around the world and we rely on their ability to speak a common language, adopt similar ways of working and communicate internationally. These are relatively sophisticated skills. It’s not uncommon for us to meet participants who are attending a global virtual teams training program who have never been trained in basic face-to-face teamwork, or managers whose first team is virtual.
As economies and business subsidiaries develop, they become increasingly quickly integrated into their regional and global structures. People who have only ever been used to local management, perhaps in a traditional hierarchical culture, suddenly have two bosses in different cultures and time zones. People who are used to operating in local language are asked to become functional in a common global language.
As the regional and global structures become more powerful, they can lead to divided loyalties between the need to participate in these projects and activities and the strong local relationships and legacy power that can get in the way.
In some parts of the world, participants learn modern management techniques – a new language of collaboration and a whole new way of matrix, virtual and global working all at the same time.
It’s pretty straightforward, though perhaps expensive, to introduce information infrastructure, and in fact many people are now frustrated by the fact that the technologies they enjoy at home are faster, richer and more flexible than the technologies they use at work. The technology barrier can be overcome pretty quickly.
The skills barrier, however, takes much longer to overcome. It relies on people being open and flexible and having the skill set to back up this more open mindset. It also relies on the ability to find the balance between local and global power and influence, and on people building a global network to get things done. These things take much longer and require significant transformation in the way people work together.
So, as organizations become more global and more integrated, they need to make sure that they equip every part of the world with the skill set to enable collaboration across barriers of distance, culture, time zones and technology and the ability to work together in complex organisation structures such as the matrix.
If we don’t, we may inhibit the ability of these regions to integrate into the global structure and miss out on the benefits of their perspectives and contributions. This won’t happen overnight and through trial and error: it needs to be managed.
Reference: Information Infrastructure Centrality in the Agile Organization,by Steven A Morris, Denise Johnson McManus. Information Systems Management (2002) Volume 19, Issue 4, PP 8-13. Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd.