Archives For global alignment

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Globalization and rapidly changing technology continue to sweep the world. Organizations working across international and cultural boundaries face significant challenges as they seek to reach and maintain market leadership – however, inherent in those challenges are often unrealized opportunities. One such opportunity, Multicultural teams, offers a wealth of leverage to the discerning global leader. Our research repeatedly identifies the following advantages when multicultural teams are leveraged effectively:

–       Global economies of scale and scope are realized

–       Effective global learning & knowledge transfer takes place

–       Global strategic capabilities are enhanced

–       More innovative products and services are developed

–       Better understanding of customers across multiple geographies is achieved

–       Strong cultural intelligence fostering competitive advantage is accomplished

In today’s complex global marketplace, success depends on a company’s ability to work effectively across different geographical locations and cultures in order to drive innovation and capture market share. Leaders must go beyond motivating people from very different cultural backgrounds, experiences and leadership styles – they must create an environment that facilitates multicultural teams to collaborate effectively across boundaries and borders. There is simply no better better way to understand and strategically exploit the global marketplace.

The truth is that most organizations under-utilize their multicultural teams as strategic assets. When properly developed, such teams contribute significantly to the growth and success of the organization and to its bottom line. In fact, multicultural teams are one of the most consistent sources of competitive advantage for any organization who deploys them – they are effectively the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace.

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There are several hundred national and regional cultures throughout the world. The enormity of the notion of deciphering the cultural norms of each of these diverse cultures is incredibly overwhelming. A dose of cultural intelligence goes a long way toward facilitating better relationships and reducing misunderstandings across boundaries and borders. Ideally, armed with some valuable information and tools, the global leader can acquire insight into the diverse cultures within which s/he must interact – making it possible to adopt a cultural stance toward teams/colleagues/clients designed to fit in appropriately with the orientations of the other.

If we are open to similarities versus differences, we can begin to see that it is possible to view all of the variant cultures through three lenses. These differing orientations will greatly increase the ability to successfully interact across cultures:

1) Task-oriented, highly organized planners (Monochronistics)

2) People-oriented, extroverts (Polychronistics)

3) Introverted, respect-oriented listeners (Reactives)

In a world of rapidly globalizing business, the ability to interact successfully with foreign colleagues is seen not as optional, but as essential.

Monochronic, or linear, cultures, such as the Swiss, Dutch, and Germans, prefer to devote their attention to one thing at a time – focusing hard on that one thing and achieving it within a scheduled timeframe. From a monochronistic perspective, devoting full attention to one person or group at a time is the professional, or polite, thing to do. Processing of tasks is sequential, rather than parallel. In this type of culture, people feel they are more efficient and get more done by segmenting their time, tasks, relationships, etc. into compartmentalized units.  By virtue of this compartmentalization, monochronistic people are less likely to view their activities within the context of the whole, or “big picture”.

Polychronic, or multi-tasking, cultures, such as the Greeks, Portuguese, or Italians tend to interrupt a task or meeting in order to attend to another important task or relationship at the same time – they are the proverbial multi-taskers.  Polychronistics are not too interested in schedules or punctuality and prefer to remain flexible. They do not like to leave conversations unfinished. Completing the human interaction, versus observing monochronistic time constraints, is the best use of their time.  They consider it professional and polite to juggle different projects and people at the same time. In Mediterranean polychronistic cultures, for example, an executive interacts with multiple people at once. Everyone feels acknowledged through having access to an important person, which is seen as a significant advantage. It is accepted that several meetings may take place in parallel in different rooms. While the senior person is sharing his/her time across several meetings, it is common practice for the other attendees to continue the meeting until s/he returns.

When people of differing orientations work together, irritation often results on both sides. Unless someone adapts – and they rarely do – they are in constant crisis. For example, a German may wonder why a Mexican won’t arrive on time, work to deadlines, or follow a plan. At the same time a Mexican may ponder why a German seems so regimented, why s/he insists on sticking to plan if circumstances have changed, or why a German may be willing to sacrifice quality to meet a deadline.

Reactive, or listening, cultures, such as Japan, China, Turkey and Finland belong to a group of listening cultures, who rarely initiate action or discussion. They prefer to listen and establish the other’s position first, then react to it and formulate their own response. Reactives listen carefully, concentrate solely on the speaker, and do not let their minds wander. Interruption is not an option, and they will not respond immediately. A period of silence after the speaker is finished shows respect. When a Reactive does respond, do not expect him/her to demonstrate any strong opinion immediately, but instead s/he is likely to ask questions to clarify the speakersintent. Reactives are introverts by nature and are quite proficient at nonverbal communication through subtle body language.

Although adaptation to an alternative culture may not be an easy task, it is nevertheless critical to global business success. The reserved, factual Finn must navigate toward common ground with the loquacious, emotional Italian to facilitate common business requirements. American, as well as European, global leaders have the opportunity to turn over many more billions of dollars in trade if they learn to communicate effectively with the Japanese and Chinese. Observing and respecting the above cultural orientations goes a long way in the right direction toward building solid partnerships across a diverse world to achieve exceptional results. After all, whatever mode of transportation is chosen – all roads do lead to Rome….

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at or by visiting our website Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

It is inevitable – change creates drama in most organizations. However, you have a choice as to whether you deal with change effectively or let it spiral out of control  – controlling you and creating unnecessary drama! Leaders need to be able to present a unified vision and convey support if they expect their people to embrace change. Indifference can lead to a rapid demise of the change effort. As a leader invoking change, make sure you provide:

  • A vision for how the change will impact the individual, team, division and organization
  • A firm commitment to change goals, while accepting input on the details
  • Specific, achievable objectives along with plans for achieving them
  • A roadmap for success with realistic timelines, budgets, and owners
  • A communication framework to support change adoption
  • Opportunities for people to give feedback during and after the change

Admittedly, organizational change is complex, but we often make it harder on ourselves than it has to be. Just as in the board game Clue, it is easy to engage in false assumptions that can lead our people down the path of suspicion and drama – away from the truth and the ultimate win. The result? A whole lot of ambiguous thinking regarding the application of structured, human-focused, change within the organization.

Here are just a few examples of how we can easily fall victim to false assumptions over our own realities:

People Resist Change: Actually, not always. People frequently seek out drastic changes in their lives and voluntarily embrace them. People do, however, resist being forced to change.
 How change is presented and managed will impact its success or failure far more than the change itself.  Most of us respond far better to change when we comprehend a valid reason for it – without solid justification, most people are likely to resist anyone who tries to force change upon them… and cause drama along the way.

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You can bet that if you do not set and manage expectations, drama will invite itself in for an extended visit. When people do not know what is expected, they will create their own expectations – and they most likely will not align across the organization. Disagreements and controversy ensue, causing chaos and distraction from driving positive results.  While setting and managing expectations may seem time consuming, the cost – in time, effort, and drama – of not doing so far exceeds that of being responsible and clearly letting people know what you expect of them.

Before you, as a leader, can hold people accountable for outcomes, you have to let them know what success looks like and what you expect to see as a result of their efforts.  If everyone knows what is expected, the focus is on driving for results and monitoring against set standards. The benefit of setting and managing expectations is twofold:

  1. Clear, concise expectations drive actions and decisions.
  2. Explicit expectations are a primary driver of success.

If you fail to create an environment where expectations are well understood and respected by your people, you are highly unlikely to develop a high-performing organization… or deliver strong business results.

Expectations are like the rules in the board game Sorry! When everyone knows the “rules” or “expectations”, some may try and cheat (like my husband, who can’t stand to lose), but the other players will hold the cheater accountable. When no one knows the rules, it is impossible to be accountable, much less hold anyone else accountable to anything.  Organizations are no different – if you want your players to know how to play to win and hold others accountable, you are responsible for setting and managing expectations.

When setting expectations, consider these four principles:

1. Clarity

Expectations should focus on outcomes, not activities. Leaders often make the mistake of attempting to direct the process that will be used, rather than focusing on the desired outcome. As a leader, you should be responsible for identifying the goal, while the employee (or the team) is then responsible for developing how to meet or exceed expectations.

2. Relevance

Relevance helps define the “why” of what is expected. If employees have complete understanding of the importance of what they are asked to deliver, they will be more committed to the result because they see how it fits into the big picture, as well as how their efforts impact the company.

3. Simplicity.

Simplicity creates a sense of grounding for both individuals and teams. If you identify what is expected in simple, straightforward terms, there is a clear understanding of exactly what is expected.

4.  Consistency

After setting expectations, you must maintain a consistent approach to managing expectations that can be applied in most situations. This facilitates a sense of unity and equality, and will bolster morale across the organization.

Now, let’s consider three important components to managing expectations:

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Global leaders everywhere are now realizing how critical global teams are to future competitiveness and overall productivity. The power of global teams to respond expeditiously to corporate challenges has become a key component to a company’s ultimate ability to succeed in demanding and constantly evolving environments. Despite knowing the reality of today’s networked-style global organization, very few have successfully developed and leveraged global teams. Although they are consistently seen as essential for global prosperity, these teams are left to fail more often than their success is facilitated. The reality is that global teams generally have more talent and potential than other types of teams by sheer force of their diversity. Yet this potential is often squandered because of an innate inability of both the team and the organization to harness the power of the global team. It is essential that corporations begin to break down the complexities of global teams and facilitate an understanding of the challenges inherent to the concept – successfully creating and deploying global teams is one of the most significant business challenges of this century.

As an individual strives to become an Extreme Global Leader, s/he will come to realize that people, across boundaries and borders, will determine whether or not s/he wins at the great game of business. Made up of people, global teams are the modus operandi for getting things done in organizations – and within global organizations there is a critical requirement for global teams. One can attempt to build an exceptional, culturally diverse team by design and by talent, but will likely fail. One may put together a team of specialists from across the various regions, but that will not create what is needed to ultimately win. Performance depends on both individual excellence and on how well the team works together across their disparate locations and functions. “Alignment” emerges when, despite culturally diverse backgrounds, a group of people understands the unique value of each player and leverages that value to function as a cohesive, global whole. When a global team becomes aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individual efforts synchronize with the whole. Synergy evolves – there is commonality of purpose, a shared global vision, and an inherent understanding of how to leverage one another’s talents – despite disparate cultures and functions. Alignment is the “X Factor” of global teams, making them Extreme.

Exceptional team development across boundaries and borders is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of the team to create the winning results. It builds on the discipline of developing shared vision. It also builds on personal mastery: talented teams are made up of talented individuals. But the bottom line is that shared vision and talent are not enough to create an Extreme Global Team. The world is full of talented teams who share a vision for a while, yet they fail to learn and grow together, and ultimately fail to win. Extreme sports champions have talent and a shared vision, but what really matters is that the team knows how to play together – Extreme Teams in organizations are no different.

There has never been a greater need for the development of Extreme Teams in global organizations than there is today – yet they are not common, and even more rare, successful. A significant portion of important global decisions are now made in teams –  directly or through the need for teams to translate individual decisions into global organizational actions. If global teams are developed with the focus and intent on learning to excel as a cohesive unit, organizational insights are gained that can be translated into exceptional results. Skills are developed that can propagate and motivate other teams to be exceptional across the organization and across the world. Most of all, the Extreme Team’s accomplishments can set the tone  and establish a standard of excellence for the larger organization, across boundaries and borders.

The power to link and leverage, as well as to move and manipulate resources, enables organizations to provide superior products and services at a lower cost that will quickly overwhelm competitors who do not use global teams effectively. Aligned global teams exponentially increase competitive advantage as they will attract the best talent, create and develop the best products and services, and ultimately attract the best, and most loyal, customers. Are YOU building an Extreme Team?

You can contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next Thursday for the next installation  of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.