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Global intranet projects have big ambitions. At a minimum, they aim to launch a new homepage for all staff. Beyond this, they often plan to deliver a new platform and experience for the entire intranet landscape, across the whole organisation.
Global digital workplace projects are bigger still, typically encompassing content, communication, collaboration and mobility.
Being global projects, they span geographies, whether that means multiple offices, cities, states, or countries. They also dive deep into the complexities of organisations, with their multiple divisions, business units, groups and teams.
Having a robust project team in place is vital in these large and complex projects. There is also one fundamental truth for these teams:
Global #intranet projects must have team members who come from across the globe
As a starting point, global intranet projects must engage widely with the organisation. Beyond this, they should be driven by a team or group that is directly representative of the wider organisation.
This article will explore three practical levels of engagement for global intranet projects.
Why global projects can’t just be driven top down
Almost by definition, global projects originate and are run by head office. They aim to improve the state of the entire organisation.
They cannot, however, just be driven from the top down, for the following reasons:
- Governance. The project team — and the head office organisational unit it sits in — has a defined role and responsibility, according to the governance model in place. This limits what the team owns and controls, and what it can mandate for the organisation as a whole.
- Visibility. Global organisations are dozens of levels deep, spread across many business units and locations. In this context, it becomes difficult to even understand the needs and issues of all staff, or to engage with all stakeholders.
- Practicality. Beyond a certain organisational size and complexity, it becomes infeasible for one project to attempt to meet all needs. Budget, resources and time become particularly stretched in global projects, and they will all run out well before all business needs are met.
All is not lost, however. By bringing the globe directly into the project team and structure, top-down delivery can be supported by horizontal engagement.
If global #intranet projects attempt to drive only from the top down, they will fall well short of reaching the entire globe
Three levels of engagement for global projects
Within a global context, there are three ways that teams can engage with the wider organisation:
- Global team. A core project team that consists of members from across the organisation, in terms of geography and business area.
- Global group. A looser structure that coordinates the delivery of the project, with members acting as representatives of their areas of the organisation.
- Global community. Individuals from across the organisation are encouraged to participate in the design and delivery of the global project, as well as connecting with each other.
Each of these three levels is explored in the coming sections.
1. Global team
The strongest approach to a global project is to have the core project team members drawn directly from areas across the organisation, including multiple geographic locations and business units. Working side-by-side, the team can draw on its wide knowledge of how the business works, to ensure that what’s delivered will work for all.
In a large organisation, this may mean having a global team with members from a wide mix of countries, such the US, UK, Dubai, France and Australia. Ideally the project members would be seconded to the team, and transferred to work in the same office. If not, there should be a travel budget that allows the team to meet face-to-face on a regular basis.
In one sense, this is an early test of the seriousness and feasibility of the global project. If there’s no budget for travel at all, then the capacity of the project to deliver on a global scale should be questioned. (There are many other areas of businesses where staff travel regularly, such as research, product development and sales, as well as leaders at multiple levels.)
In the age of the digital workplace, an alternative is to work entirely remotely. Team members should still be formally allocated to the project, so that they have sustained time without other distractions.
(Note that it’s important to have a clear set of roles and responsibilities for the central team, and the five hats for global teams provides an effective model for this.)
Real world example: we’ve worked with a global non-profit that had the task of delivering a new global intranet (amongst other things). When we came on board, they had already sustained an entirely virtual team for over a year, even though each member worked in a different country and was only informally allocated to the project. While not without its challenges, this proved to be a highly effective way of approaching the project in a truly global way.
A global project should have a global team that works side-by-side, virtually if not physically.
2. Global group
There are many structures looser than a formal project team that can be used when engaging with the globe. These are called different things depending on the organisation, such as committee, working group, or reference group.
These allow representatives from different geographies and business units to be engaged in the project in a coordinated way, alongside their day-to-day responsibilities. They may only be called upon monthly or quarterly, and their engagement is often entirely virtual.
Beyond sending a message that the project is serious about the globe, these types of groups are a good way of gaining input and ‘sense checking’ the proposed approach.
When it comes to the implementation phase, this group may also be called upon to roll out any new solution within their geography or business area.
Real world example: the global intranet project at UniCredit, headquartered in Italy, took the approach that it “takes a village” to deliver a new global solution. In addition to the core team, they recruited a global group of 40 colleagues to assist with the project. Investing heavily in engagement and user testing, the project was able to involve 2,977 staff in refining the initial concept, 632 staff in testing the new IA, and 585 staff in improving search.
Beyond the global #intranet team, local representatives should be brought together as a group to support the project
3. Global community
This is the loosest structure, where staff are brought together into a “community of practice” around their shared involvement in the intranet or digital workplace.
Community members typically have hands-on intranet responsibilities, such as publishing content or site management. The community provides an effective mechanism to conduct engagement and change management activities across the global organisation.
The community should also live on beyond the current project, forming an ongoing part of the intranet’s governance and operational model. (For more information on running these communities, see Establish an intranet community of practice as well as How intranet teams can support site managers and publishers).
Real world example: when Merck established its new global intranet, it created a global community consisting of local site owners and publishers. Through early and regular communication (before others), this community was made to feel like “rockstars”, with involvement positioned as job enrichment. Training (face-to-face and remote) was supplemented by community “excellence awards”, as well as a celebration around the launch of the new intranet.
Create and sustain a global #intranet community, consisting of site owners and content publishers
At least one, ideally all three
Different approaches will be required to global projects, depending on the structure and operating model of the global firm. That being said, a global project can only hope for success if it establishes at least one of the engagement levels outlined above.
The more formal approaches (global team or group) are stronger than looser arrangements such as a global community. That being said, a strong commitment to engagement at any level will deliver considerable benefits.
The most robust approach is to engage at all three levels, with a strong global team coordinating the other levels of engagement. This is most likely to be seen in global organisations that have a mature understanding of how they should operate at a global level.
If needed, reduce scope
Creating and coordinating any team is challenging, not least at a global level. “Herding the cats” is particularly tricky when business units are scattered across multiple continents.
Global projects should therefore be pragmatic, and make a realistic assessment of how big an impact they can have with the level of engagement they can achieve. If needed, reduce scope, such as reducing the number of locations delivered to, or the spread of technology to be launched.
While global organisations are undoubtedly complex, there are always practical ways of making a difference. The more deeply the project can engage with the globe, the greater the impact will be.