Sunday, 23 October 2005

build up a diverse team

originally an extract from (Filed: 20/10/2005). Link no longer available

Paul Skinner, chairman of Rio Tinto
It was pretty late in my life as a business leader and manager that I began to realise just how important investing in people is.

I have to say that with a little shock and regret, but it really is critically important for anybody leading a major organisation that they are constantly thinking about the way their business teams are structured and resourced.

It was brought home to me when I was given the job of managing Shell's global downstream business, the customer-facing business in refining and marketing, which was a very large business operating in about 140 countries. In the late 1990s, our structure for managing that business - which until that time had rested on individual national operating units - started to evolve in a way that recognised the global reality of our business. With help from some very good colleagues I therefore spent a lot of time designing a new organisation and putting together its leadership team.
It's very important in a team to ensure that you have the complete range of skills and talent that you need, and you should spend a lot of time thinking about how people are going to complement each other. You need diversity.

Sometimes we think of diversity in terms of gender and nationality; perhaps one dimension we don't think about enough is diversity of thinking. A team of people who all have the same thinking pattern is not necessarily as productive as a team that thinks in different ways. So you need to cover the skills; you need to make sure the people you've got are going to be ready to produce new ideas and innovations.

This organisation proved pretty early on that it had the capability to be effective. But, as the leader of that team, it was clear that part of my role was going to be in spending a lot of time with the individuals themselves, to make sure that they were contributing the best they could to the efforts of the team. That started to take an increasing amount of my time but the return on that investment was very worthwhile.

It applied particularly in the case of people who joined Shell from other companies at very senior levels. When you have people entering a large mature organisation, making sure they are given the right level of support took a lot of time.

But again it was absolutely worth doing because the last thing we wanted for these people who joined us with a very different line of thinking was to turn them into people who fitted a mould, who reproduced the Shell thinking pattern. That's not why we hired them.

A good team of people is a terrific asset. One can almost think of it in terms of any other asset that one might own corporately, or even personally. If something is that important to you, you'd better spend an appropriate amount of time, effort and resource on maintaining it.