HR & Teams in Global Organizations

Toby is in HR, which technically means he works for Corporate. So he’s really not a part of our family.
– Michael Scott (“The Office”)

Teams are complicated in domestic environments, and are even more complicated in global organizations when multiple languages and cultures are involved, spread across large distances. Jay Galbraith writes that “the long-term human resources role is to build social capital by creating richly connected interpersonal networks across the organization” (2000, p.119). Is this asking too much? Perhaps. HR often sees itself as the enforcers of the organization; the unbendable glue that protects it from litigation and unscrupulous employees. But shouldn’t HR be a strategic partner in everything the organization does? Galbraith also argues that HR needs to see their role as one of building and valuing personal networks. Galbraith is probably correct, but how does the average employee go about doing this? I have previously written about the “cocktail party” design of organizations that values and incorporates social networking into its design, but an intentional social networking structure still requires training. How do organizations train their employees to navigate this complex web? This is where HR has an open-ended opportunity to provide essential strategic training to employees on how to work and network cross-culturally, and how to work effectively on cross-cultural teams.

HR is a necessary aspect of any large organization, especially global ones. Understanding labour laws and protecting management from management decisions is important, but only if HR is fully integrated into the organization’s strategy. A “silo” methodology of HR will hinder global growth for organizations. An intentionally integrated methodology, that finds and prepares the current and future workforces, will help bolster growth and provide substantial contributions to the organization. This methodology should include a strategic focus on increasing global leadership competencies through travel, teams, training and transfers. HR departments that do this will be perfectly situated to become that strategic global partner in the 21st Century. This focus will also help make HR more a part of the family, and limit the number of “Toby’s” in global organizations.

Galbraith, J.R. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Vanderpyl, T.H. (2010, December). Cocktail parties and organizational design in the 21st century. WeLEAD Online Magazine. Download here.