Managing Large-Scale Global Organisational Transformation: the role of culture & diversity

Managing Large-Scale Global Organisational Transformation: the role of culture & diversity

A summary of a 2-year assignment to effect leadership and organisational change in a multi-national player. The client is a global pharmaceutical manufacturing…

A summary of a 2-year assignment to effect leadership and organisational change in a multi-national player.

The client is a global pharmaceutical manufacturing company with circa 40,000 employees across four continents with head office in Europe. It operates within a highly complex supply chain eco-system and includes a less than robust structure of cross-country and cross-section staff rotations. Our client interactions were all conducted in multilingual, multicultural environments.

The task was to develop the leadership capabilities of the senior leadership to: develop a corporate identity; work across all divisions and sections, nationally and internationally and think and behave strategically. In particular, to support the steep growth curve of the company by developing its top leadership capacity and prepare a succession plan that would be capable of managing the 100% growth expected in the next ten years.


  • Develop Board behaviour that thinks as one and not as separate business units;
  • Develop a coherent vision at Board level that is cascaded down and across the organisation as an integrated message and not fragmented;
  • Develop a coherent mission, or raison d’être, at Executive level;
  • Support the Executive to put their values , mission and vision into practice and oversee their execution without becoming overtly operational;
  • Enable the ‘Top 100’ to lead with confidence and take the company to the next level of business;
  • Gain insight into the supply chain dynamics in order to enable higher degrees of customer-focussed and supplier-focussed approaches.

Our Approach was to work with the three top tiers of the company applying cycles of diagnosis, assessment, intervention design and implementation and reporting via working notes and review meetings. Our methodology included process consultancy and capacity-building activities, comprehensive interviews with stakeholders, organisational observations, privileged conversations and action learning.

At the start, silo working predominated and communication between Top 100 and the Executive was one way.

  • Leadership and organisational issues as they impacted on people’s roles and jobs were improved;
  • Priorities were reordered in line with organisational and leadership objectives;
  • Cross-departmental, cross-national and cross-discipline collaborative learning and working were established;
  • The Top 100 participants engaged more effectively with their direct reports, up line (their bosses) and down line (their subordinates);
  • Self-directed cross-departmental action learning sets were formed which continued to meet after the programme ended;
  • Tensions and silos across the company were surfaced and worked on and difficult conversations held;
  • Supported the Executive in maintaining the company’s core values of innovation and high investment in R&D whilst also helping them articulate other core values;
  • Increasing Executive capacity for handling strategic issues to shape the company’s direction for the next 7-10 years;
  • Increased capacity of the Executive to face issues and hold difficult conversations;
  • Achieved a better balance of purposeful and less political conversations inside and outside of the Executive.

In order to overcome and work through the challenges expressed through the objectives we: 

  • Used organisational observations in order to gain insight into the dynamics at play at board and executive levels. Over time, our presence became a ‘container’ which enabled the surfacing of difficult conversations and dynamics which, once worked through, increased the capacity of the executive to work together as an integrated system more effectively. These included surfacing lack of interest in each other’s businesses, competition between businesses and silo behaviour which reverberated across the organisation.
  • created a number of cross-function, cross-sector and cross-country action learning groups that worked together over a period of 18 months and which achieved:
    • Breaking down silos
    • Leaders becoming more insightful into their own leadership attitudes and behaviours and how they impacted others in their departments as well as outside their areas
    • Surfacing and working through complex and sometimes difficult dynamics between different professions/disciplines in the company, for example, system engineers vs researchers; factory R&D vs mature product factory people; sales and marketing (customer focussed) vs production and manufacturing (supplier focussed)
    • Did a site visit to one of the former R&D sites (which had been acquired) with a group from HQ and spent a few days working with both teams there. This visit had enormous impact on the local workforce resulting in reopening previously closed avenues of conversation. The site visit led to newly found friendships and collaborations across the ocean and across the perceived hierarchies.
  • Created two events at six monthly intervals. One was a whole community event, aimed at spreading the work of the action learning groups to 250 members of the wider community of the company. The second event was a consolidating strategy day for the top two leadership tiers, taking stock at the end of 18 months of development work and considering next steps.
  • Some of the action learning groups are still working, testament to the sustainable impact our methodology and consultancy offer.

Dr Mannie Sher, PhD
Director, Group Relations Programme and
Principal Researcher & Consultant

This article is part of the series: “All research is consultancy; all consultancy is research” 

The title of which describes the work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations as an integrated social science research and consultancy organisation. Research and consultancy are two sides of the same coin, the ‘coin’ being a deep curiosity about the human condition and a drive to study all aspects of it in order to advance knowledge of society and people that leads to improvement. Study and change are basic to the Institute’s aims that are expressed via high-level professional research and consultancy activity.

Some clients of the Tavistock Institute call for our independent research capability and expect to move forward by implementing the research or evaluation results themselves; others call for consultancy in order for change to be produced before fully knowing what the problem is or what needs changing. In both situations, the Tavistock Institute approaches assignments in two stages – first, researching the designated problem, and secondly, engaging the client in partnership to resolve the problem through a research and consultancy and change process.

Over the next few months, we will be posting a number of articles that describe important aspects of work with individuals, teams, organisations, partnerships, coalitions and federations. From a very wide field of themes, we will select examples of work that we think will interest readers.

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