Successful Integration of Global Inter-functionality Starts at Business School

Nick Sanders and Celine Foss, Programme Directors at Grenoble Ecole de Management discuss how students can be better prepared to face the challenges of increasing global complexity in the business world.

23 Jul 2019

5 mins read


Traditional and linear functions of organisations are now infinitely more complex.

In the ‘good old days', organisations operated within the comparative simplicity of largely, process-based and linear functionality. This functionality was broadly defined in three main areas: Operations and Supply Chain, Sales and Marketing with Finance to balance the books between the costs of operations and the Revenue of Sales and Marketing. Products had longer life-cycles and the frenetic project-based organisation seeking to rapidly redefine competitive advantage in an ever-more demanding, sophisticated and selective market, didn't face the challenges of today.

In short, repeated and longer cycles promoted greater understanding between mostly integrated functions within organisations as the shared learning curve broke down inter-functional silos and promoted inter-functional understanding through repeated process-centred activity and more limited product and service variation.

How different things are now.

The traditional and linear functions of organisations are now infinitely more complex, and increasingly network and matrix based as ‘project' becomes the norm over ‘processes. Increasingly, organisations are also faced with a growing number of new functional entities deemed essential to survive and thrive in the business arena.  Compliance, Legal, Information Technology, CSR, Data management and security, challenges and opportunities presented by AI and Big Data, are all examples of organisational functions that have grown in importance and prominence in recent years and have failed to fit neatly into any of the ‘traditional' functional blocs within companies. However, they are now becoming, or are already, crucial components of an organisation's security and success.

To compound the complexity of this increasingly network based functionality is the fact that organisations shop around to reduce costs, looking across borders to find reduced costs, economies of scale and regional centres of expertise. It would not be very difficult to find, for example, a company headquartered in Germany, that had key markets in the US and UK, where manufacturing took place in China, backroom functions are outsourced to Poland and Legal and Compliance is in-house in Dusseldorf.

As Business and Management educators, how can we best prepare and train students to both understand and effectively manage within these complex environments?

We have identified three key areas of education styles, methods and inputs (although these are not exhaustive), where management education can create and develop students' adaptability, flexibility and dare we say it, courage and confidence in dealing with increasing levels of international global complexity.

We have chosen these three approaches on the basis that for many of our management programmes, the resource and capacity is organic within increasingly international programmes, they are simple and effective for faculty to introduce and develop and from our own experience, they make the teaching and learning experience more enjoyable and beneficial for all stakeholders in the management education process.

1. Create cross-functional subject understanding within faculty
Tutors and faculty need to create the time and space to introduce their own domains to colleagues and teachers of other functional and technical subjects within programmes. In organisations, no function exists in isolation and is dependent and interdependent on the ‘moving parts' of the whole organisational system. It is essential that faculty take a broad view and are aware of the impacts of decisions, constraints and opportunities throughout the whole organisational ecosystem and the importance and consequences of emerging functions in the business environment. This is particularly important of entities that are gaining strategic and operational significance such as CSR, Legal and Compliance, Globalisation, disruptive technologies and innovations and Intercultural Management frameworks are amongst ‘new' knowledge areas that must be firmly woven into the academic program.

This can be achieved through inter-departmental workshops, presentation sessions and very effectively, through case-study creation initiatives, where multi-disciplinary learning and knowledge-sharing is co-created into meaningful, inter-functional simulations by collaboration between faculty who teach different modules and subjects.

2. Identify opportunities to apply integration through student projects
As a student's exposure to business and management knowledge increases and learning expands and extends, tutors and programme managers need to create opportunities and challenges for students to apply functional integration, to experience the cause and effect of functions on each other.

Integration modules, such as New Business or Product Development modules and Capstone type consolidation projects are an essential mechanism towards developing students' understanding of and experience in the complexity of linking multi-functional initiatives. These projects must now form a significant input in closing-the-loop within business and management education.

An added upside of this approach are valuable by-products of both innovation and entrepreneurship dynamics. These two aptitudes are not only required in the environment of start-ups and new business ventures, but are also hallmarks of the successful modern manager within modern organisations seeking competitive advantage in a complex and rapidly evolving world.

The globalisation of business education and the internationalisation of classes and cohorts has been an explosive phenomenon in recent years and this presents an on-the-doorstep opportunity to engage students in real-time international experience, where future leaders and executives in complex international and multinational companies can gain vital insights and knowledge towards the dynamics of globalisation within business - at an inter-personal level.

This relies on the integration of soft skill and communication-rich activities, projects and exercises, together with the purposive mixing of groups to break down national and cultural cliqueism and linguistic and cultural comfort zone adherences. Students, especially at early stages of programmes, are often reluctant to do this autonomously and so require prompting and encouraging by faculty and trainers.

The benefits of this experience towards creating a greater understanding of different national and cultural approaches will prove an invaluable addition to future manager's confidence and effectiveness.

The approaches mentioned above are highlighted because they do not require significant additional resource, they are organically achievable within most management educational institutions and they are beneficial and enjoyable for students and tutors alike.

By Nick Sanders and Celine Foss, Programme Directors of the Master in International Business at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) which is delivered in Singapore, Paris, Grenoble and Berlin.



Find out more about SIM- Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) Master in International Business Programme here

Posted online, 23 Jul 2019