Case study: Novartis

The Challenge

When extensive feedback from associates to management at Novartis pointed out that poor communication and lack of cooperation within teams was jeopardizing business progress, Annette Schirmer recognized this as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the benefit of training to the organization.

As Global Account Manager within Pharmaceutical Development Training for the Clinical Development & Medical Affairs division of one of the world’s major pharmaceutical and consumer health companies, Annette knew that team synergy was crucial to its short- and long term success.

With almost 80,000 employees spread over 140 countries, an effective training solution was no simple task.

“We decided to develop a program that specifically addressed this learning challenge – a combination of trial-specific technical training and team building.” Annette said. “For the team building component we called in Global Integration. They had the reputation and credibility we were looking for. We also felt confident that they could handle the large scope of work.”

For this globally structured company with headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, and its clinical team members spread around the world, cultural and language barriers were only the beginning of this challenge for Novartis.

Prioritization was a crucial issue. Without significant communication flowing through the teams, it was becoming difficult to identify high vs. low priorities. This was leading to critical issues being pushed aside.

“When you have teams working remotely without significant face-to-face time, there is a unique skills set that needs to be acquired in order to be high performing,” noted Annette. “In other words, we needed to improve our team skills in order to prioritize, plan and make timely, effective decisions. Our goal was to significantly improve team cooperation.”

Bridging the physical distance and lack of face-to-face contact in remote teams needed to be addressed to solve problems such as slower completion rates on projects and loss of productivity. Better communication would smooth work flow and generate greater efficiency, yielding a smoother working process.

“In an organization the size of Novartis, everything relies on communication,” Annette pointed out.

The Solution

The Global Integration team began formulating a structure for the training. Led by consultant Rod Farnan, Global Integration quickly built a training program to meet the needs of Novartis’ CD&MA Department.

“Rod and his team produced training modules focused on remote and virtual team building, cultural diversity, matrix organizations, global structure in large organizations, and global talent,” Annette said. “It was exactly what we were looking for.”

Named the Training of Professional (TOP) Teams Program, the modules were very well received by participants from the beginning.

“We saw the value in what we were doing early on, and that made it more enjoyable and beneficial for everyone,” said Rod.

One of the tools Global Integration used during the sessions was a variety of team building exercises that stimulate real life pressure and the requirement for good leadership and teamwork.

Although the exercises necessarily included an element of frustration, they bred healthy competition and, more importantly, showed very clearly the way individuals communicate and interact with each other.

“There is a lot of eye-opening happening during these sessions,” noted Rod. “Participants usually make changes to their work style based on their insights from these exercises.”

The training sessions were not without some challenges. Inevitably, a few participants saw the sessions as “just another team building game” and put up resistance. But those attitudes can change dramatically once participants realize the benefit in how the team acts. They leave the sessions saying that the teambuilding exercises were the best they had ever attended – negative attitudes towards teambuilding were reversed and virtually every participant has commented that the sessions were absolutely worthwhile and valuable.

“The reason we were able to get to this point using Global Integration is because the firm and its consultants have real world experience and credibility,” said Annette. “The content is very convincing. I’ve met and worked with many of the Global Integration consultants and there’s not a single professional from the firm who is not talented and energizing – and that’s a great asset.”


As training sessions were completed, senior management’s request for tangible, measurable results was the focus. Statistics on the sessions were very impressive: 92 percent of participants evaluated the training as good or excellent. Once they were back in their home locations, participants noted that the sessions had brought their teams much closer together, communication improved greatly, and interaction among team members was friendlier and more frequent. This is particularly important when your team members may be hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The end results proved to be the most satisfying for Annette and her team. Because of improved communication, work processes and solutions to problems and issues have been arrived at faster and more smoothly. Some participants have noted that timelines for certain processes in their clinical trials have been reduced and activities have been brought to completion earlier because the interaction within the company has improved.

From the initial ten pilot sessions, the Top Teams Program has grown to accommodate 40 new teams plus follow-up meetings for the first ten teams. The company has also been evaluating Global Integration’s e-learning solutions and will most likely use these sessions as interval training to keep the training material fresh in the participants’ minds.

Certain senior managers also attended the sessions and they were very much in favor of the initiative. So much so that Annette has suggested taking the Top Team Program one level higher to the next level of clinical program management.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the results we’ve had.” said Annette.

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