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Developing High Performing Intercultural Category Teams .

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In this guest post, Procurement Leaders invites consultant Emma Pugh to look at ways of breaking down cultural barriers in procurement teams, using EIPC's work with SUBWAY as a case study.


When I was first approached by European Independent Purchasing Company (EIPC) to design and run a Category Management Development Programme to help set up global teams, my response was an immediate 'yes' with a large caveat – do not expect these teams to be effective without the integration of intercultural and team effectiveness training.


Formed in 2001, EIPC was set up to enable SUBWAY Franchisees (food vendors) in Europe to benefit from the financial and service discounts that come from purchasing and supplying product and services in large volumes. EIPC works within a virtual network known internally as Unaterra. The network links the five different Purchasing companies across the globe. Each undertakes the procurement and supply chain for all SUBWAY stores in their region. Unlike other organisations, the Unaterra network has no supporting formal structure; the success of global procurement relies solely on relationships.


Until the launch of the Intercultural Category Management Development Programme in 2011, as part of Unaterra, EIPC had experienced some limited success in global procurement delivering some quick wins in the easier categories through simple contract negotiation rather than an in-depth category approach. We designed a bespoke four day training session to use in-depth Category Management content as the structure on which to hang the equally critical behavioural skills required to create and, most importantly, sustain virtual and/or global procurement teams.


In my previous experience as a procurement manager across a number of different industries, I have noticed that within the function nowhere near enough focus is placed on what it truly takes for category teams to perform especially over prolonged periods of time. The softer skills we focused on were particularly focused on giving the team members the tools to have those necessary difficult conversations when communication breaks down (This can happen across e-mail, through assumptions made on late night or early morning conference calls, through a lack of understanding of cultural norms and values and in some cases through conflicting organisational targets and goals). All of these softer skills require individuals to develop deep self-awareness, to step out of their comfort zones, to take time to understand another person's perspective and background and to relate person to person, not role to role.


So were there challenges in designing this bespoke programme? Undoubtedly. But, I was lucky enough to have a client who really listened (another skill focused on during the training), who understood the need to invest time and money both up-front and throughout to support their employees to work through challenges together, category by category. Only when we work from a truly authentic place can misunderstandings be avoided and barriers be broken down to co-create a new way. This takes time, the right level of support, investment and understanding.


The payoffs have been significant - a measureable growth in individual and team capability across all of the IPCs, increased soft benefits to the SUBWAY® Franchisees and more than $40m incremental savings delivered across 15 global teams, ranging from bakery to credit card processing. In the working world today, where ambiguity is normal and the divide between the infinite growth bubble and finite resources widens daily, team effectiveness is fundamental.


Emma Pugh has a background in procurement and is CEO of Living Deliberately Ltd, a consultancy focusing on supporting individuals and groups to be truly authentic, to break down cultural barriers, to work as high performing teams to drive greater meaning, effectiveness and performance.


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Emma Pugh
Posted by Emma Pugh

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