Multicultural Multinational Teams at IBM
When many people think of a traditional, established company, they think of IBM. IBM has been
famous for its written and unwritten rules—such as its no-layoff policy, its focus on individual
promotions and achievement, the expectation of lifetime service at the company, and its
requirement of suits and white shirts at work. The firm was one of the mainstays of the “man in a
gray flannel suit” Corporate culture in the United States.
Times have certainly changed.
IBM has clients in 170 countries and now does two-thirds of its business outside the United States.
As a result, it has overturned virtually all aspects of its old culture. One relatively new focus is on
teamwork. While IBM
Uses work teams extensively, like almost all large organizations, the way it does so is unique.
To foster appreciation of a variety of cultures and open up emerging markets, IBM sends hundreds
of its employees to month-long volunteer project teams in regions of the world where most big
companies don’t do business. Al Chakra, a software development manager located in Raleigh, North
Carolina, was sent to join GreenForest, A furniture manufacturing team in Timisoara, Romania. With
Chakra were IBM employees from five other countries. Together, the team helped GreenForest
become more computer-savvy to increase its business. In return for the IBM team’s assistance,
GreenForest was charged nothing.
This is hardly altruism at work. IBM firmly believes these multicultural, multinational teams are good
investments. First, they help lay the groundwork for uncovering business in emerging economies,
many of which might be expected to enjoy greater future growth than mature markets. Stanley
Litow, the IBM VP who oversees the program, also thinks it helps IBMers develop multicultural team
skills and an appreciation of local markets. He notes, “We want to build a leadership cadre that
learns about these places and also learns to exchange...