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international perspectives By Michael Diliberto

The Lines that Divide Us

am on my way to the United States, my first visit in a long while. When I booked my ticket I was excited, as United Air lines had just revealed that the new Boeing 787 aircraft would be serving our route. Unfortunately, battery troubles grounded the fleet a few weeks ago, more trouble in a string of issues and delays that have plagued the 787 seemingly from the start. Many analysts, and even Boeing itself, admit that many of the troubles can be traced back to an ambitious outsourcing program that saw the company source the majority of parts from third-party manu facturers. Boeing has learned a hard les son here, but it is a lesson not dissimilar to those our company has learned these past few years as we have opened new sales offices, factories, and design centers around the world. We have probably all heard the slo gan, Think globally, act locally, a phrase often used as a catchall for the thought process that drives the strategy of many inter national organizations. I find myself returning to this phrase again and again as we forge our way through subsequent rounds of growth. To be global, to us, means to successfully build a divisible orga nization; to enable workers from around the world to put in individual efforts that drive the outcome of a single project. DOORS, FLOORS, AND OCEANS Outsourcing is, fundamentally, the division of work between firms or people that are geographically separated from one another. Far from being the domain of large global organizations, the challenges of outsourc ing can arise in even the smallest compa nies. That realization is the one that really stood out as we began looking at the best ways to divide our efforts across a global work force. The challenges of scal ability began for us not when we divided our team with oceans but rather just doors and floors. Collaboration between people is easier when everyone works together in the same

office, with colleagues interacting mostly in face-to-face meetings. For most of the time before and even during the Industrial Age, companies relied on the physical close ness of their employees to drive their companies success. When working closely together, employees can focus on solving the issues at hand and worry less about how to communicate with one another or how to make sure that everyone is up to speed.

ing to me has been seeing issues like these emerge not when people move across the country or world, but even when they sim ply relocate to a different floor in the same building. The challenge of Think globally, act locally for us is to find a way to keep the team together in spirit as team members are located farther away from each other. TOOLS FOR TEAMS The tools we have today to manage our projects, control our documents, and com municate seamlessly across the world are leaps and bounds ahead of what we had just a few years ago. Yet none of this technology is a substitute for the creativity hatched by two designers meeting by chance in the lunchroom; serendipity may be hard to quantify, but its advantages are clear. Steve Jobs once described the design intent for the Pixar offices as one that encouraged face-to-face interactions amongst staff as often as possible. He too realized that communication tools could at best supplant the necessary in-person meetings between staff members. While technology is great, there is no substitute for regular in-person meetings between key people. Geographic divisions are an inevitable product of the growth of just about every firm, and we spend a great deal of time con sidering just where and how we draw these dividing lines. It is impossible, especially as the organization grows, to have face-toface contact occur between all people on a regular basis. What we have found more important is identifying the key people, the boundary spanners, and get them together as often as is necessary for them to take key information from one another and dissem inate it to their respective teams. A FRAMEWORK FOR OUTSOURCING At our company we live by the mantra that design is best served by being as close to the customer as possible, and engineering
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W hile technology

is great, there is no substitute for regular in-person meetings between key people.

More importantly, employees that all work together in the same room dont always even need to have clear divisions of labor; its easy to identify shortfalls in effort because they occur out in the open for everyone to see. If I witness that one of my colleagues is struggling, I can easily jump in to help him or her out, even if I wasnt asked for assistance. Challenges arise as teams spread out and can no longer rely on their physical proximity as the main enabler of their suc cess. As I related these struggles to some friends and colleagues, I found that many of my peers, even those whose operation is solely within a single country, have strug gled to enable collaboration as their teams have grown larger and more dispersed. In addition to the issue of collaboration, the challenges of maintaining team cohesive ness rise in tandem with distance. As dis tance drives them apart, teams that were once inseparable begin to subtly (or not so subtly) blame one another for mistakes or misunderstandings. What is truly amaz

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as close to the manufacturing process as possible. What this means for us, besides a great deal of regular travel, is the division of people and resources to place them where they are best utilized. Locating our salespeople close to our customers is an obvious step, but what about designers? Does a designer in the U.S. understand the sensibilities of a German retailer? Lack of customer context is one of the primary reasons that a sale may be lost. As Ive mentioned in my column before, what works in one area of the world is far from assured of success in another. Similarly, a U.S.-based engineer may not understand the best way to manu facture goods in Asia or Europe. This process repeats for every role, with some roles moving, some staying the same, and some even being duplicated within every office. Our most important efforts, those that have paid the biggest dividends, have been

spent taking a long look at all of our tasks and the employees assigned to them, and asking the hard questions of whether a specific task is best assigned to that employee or even to that geographic area. The lessons that we learned and the divisions that we have made as a part of our own company growth have also given us the framework for outsourcing activities outside of our own four walls. Many of the challenges and struggles that beset us early in our growth we experience again in the move to outsource beyond our own company. The questions that we asked about how a person in one area would be able to produce something relied upon by the whole of the company drove both our structure and our process, and gave us the framework to scale beyond our current size. We have learned a lot of valuable lessons these past few years concerning how to successfully grow our company. As an aside,

we have learned many lessons in how not to successfully grow a company, as well! Most importantly, get the right people doing the right job in the right location. And for those people who are our boundary spanners, whose job touches employees in other offices, customers, or vendors, get those people face to face as much as possible. To say think globally, act locally is easy. To successfully execute this concept is a lot harder. We have learned many lessons, and we will be learning more in the future.

Mike Diliberto is general manager, China, for Bloomington, Minn.-based Lynx Innovation Inc. Contact him at miked@  lynxinnovation.com.

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