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Management in Practice

How Do You Build a Team Culture in a Global Company?

A key determinant of success for organizations today is whether teams work well together. Rajeev Dubey ’82, president of human resources at Mahindra & Mahindra, discusses the India-based giant’s approach to developing leaders with the mindset to think globally and creatively, while fostering great teamwork.

By Ted O’Callahan

The success or failure of a global organization can come down to how well small groups of people work together. “Teams are core to everything that we do,” said Rajeev Dubey ’82, president of human resources for Mahindra & Mahindra, in an interview with Yale Insights. “We have great respect for individuals, but we believe that ultimately, it is the team that delivers. So we put huge emphasis on being able to work in teams, ability to lead teams, and not so much emphasis on individual brilliance.”

Recent research has shown that teams have a form of collective intelligence, meaning that some perform considerably better than others across a range of tasks. So for a company with thousands of employees combined into innumerable teams, getting improved performance out of those teams can make a huge difference.

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine described a massive research project at Google that identified a few key qualities of effective teams. One that stood out was the presence of norms that help the team establish a psychologically safe environment, where all members are able to contribute. The data-driven company had identified the importance of emotional sensitivity to teams. Google researcher Julia Rozovsky ’12 told the magazine, “Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.”

Businesses are recognizing how much they have to adapt their cultures. In a 2016 report that drew on surveys and interviews with more than 7,000 businesses in 130 countries, Deloitte proposed hiring a more diverse workforce, fostering a sense of purpose, and dramatically restructuring organizations to be adaptable. The companies of the future are “built around highly empowered teams, driven by a new model of management, and led by a breed of younger, more globally diverse leaders.”

Dubey said that Mahindra & Mahindra, the largest tractor manufacturer in the world and one of the largest automotive producers in India, has changed its approach to human capital to suit the company’s evolving needs. “We were very much an industrial-age command-and-control organization,” he said. “We have now evolved into a VUCA [volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity] company, where people are encouraged to think differently, to experiment, to try new things.”

While regional and sectoral knowledge is valuable, according to Dubey, the indispensable characteristic in new hires is “the attitude and the mindset that people have. Are they open? Are they comfortable with ambiguity? Are they comfortable and accept that it's quite okay if people who you are dealing with think differently?” He added, “There is much more scope now for people from differing backgrounds to come in and have a good shot at being successful.”

For Mahindra & Mahindra, technical skills must be complemented with creative ones. “There is an active recognition of the fact that management is both science and art,” Dubey said. “Management is as much about the left brain of logic, rationality, reason, as it is about intuition, empathy, connection.”

Rather than expecting leaders to serve as all-knowing experts, the company wants them to set the stage for effective teamwork that produces thoughtful responses to problems. Dubey said that sort of leader “asks the right questions, and then co-creates answers, and is willing to accept the fact that the answers that he comes up with could be wrong, and therefore can change.”