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Over the past year, we have interviewed three dozen CEOs and top leaders at multinational companies to see how they handle “creative tensions” of competing on a global scale. This Accenture report focuses on what global leaders have to saying about the challenges they face and the practices they have adopted. While the responses of our interviewees vary greatly—as one would expect given their geographic dispersion and the range of industries they represent—we discerned three key attributes that top teams must have if they are to manage the complexity and the tensions that face global companies.
More companies are competing on a global stage than at any other time in history – and they are venturing out further from their home bases at an unprecedented rate. They are buying and selling in ever more diverse markets, targeting new and more varied consumers, and encountering new competitors. As companies go global, they are finding that they have to be adept at managing certain tensions. The ability of a global company to manage multiple tensions depends heavily on the skill of its top leadership team.
The ability of a global company to manage multiple tensions depends heavily on the skill of its top leadership team. Hence, it makes sense to study how global leadership teams are coping with challenges they face – to ask, in effect, if they are up to the task.
There are nearly three times as many companies competing beyond their home bases than there were 20 years ago. Top management teams carry a great responsibility. For the good of employees, owners and customers, they are expected to set strategy, make complex decisions, manage boundaries and lead change together.
The level of complexity in the global environment and the size of the stakes make clarity about purpose and process especially important. Simply admonishing a leadership team to “think globally and act locally” is hardly enough in a world where the diversity of local differences remains astonishingly large.
According to our interviews, there is a strong view that global top teams must be very clear about why they exist as a team. Members must be able to answer the question: What is the unique responsibility of this team? Simple though it may seem, a question like that has thrown more than one leadership team into a tizzy. A clear charter can reduce the duplication of effort and frustration that often builds up in a diverse and globally dispersed team – whether those frustrations grow from communication roadblocks and linguistic barriers or from divergent perspectives. Indeed, the benefits of top team diversity seem most often to come about when the team is clear about what belongs to it and what does not.
Robert J. Thomas, Joshua Bellin, Claudy Jules and Nandani Lynton
October 13, 2011
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