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Over 40 years ago, 3 entrepreneurs, Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn, founded DHL in San Francisco, since then DHL has continued to expand at a phenomenal rate. Today, it stands tall as the global market leader of the international express and logistics industry. A global network active in more than 220 countries and territories with 275,000 employees worldwide offering customers superior service quality and local knowledge to satisfy their supply chain requirements (DHL web site).
DHL depends on a far-flung network of employees and has integrated and merged several different companies all of which have to deliver the same corporate objectives. One of their successful integrations methods is a yearly football tournament that was started over two decades ago. This tournament and it’s informal setting has helped DHL to knit together it’s multinational and multicultural organisation,
What are we looking for from the DHL case study?
The DHL study clearly highlights some of the cultural difficulties, such as diversity and cross-cultural differences, the company had to deal with. Their approach of organizing a company wide football tournament might seem controversial at first but is in line with the company’s attitude and culture. Some of these cultural differences and solutions are compared with academic review.
(Hybrid culture) DHL Europe was taken over/merged with Deutsche post which has a much more formal culture compared the entrepreneurial spirit of DHL.
(Hybrid culture) Deutsche post itself was merged with several other companies and was struggling to find a new corporate identity. They did prefer the DHL culture but were apprehensive if a tournament like this would bring enough benefits
(Communication / Hybrid culture) The DHL Company culture / work demands a high level of interaction between the different countries. Knowing the person in a non formal environment helps to promote cross cultural cooperation
(Communication) Communication barriers between high position managers and lower level couriers. The team building exercise gives an opportunity to different people to mingle, exchange ideas and thus get a better understanding of each other’s roles..
2.2 Problems National (Portugal)
Recently within the country three companies have been merged, but with the merger not fully completed there is a high chance for competition between employees and management for the different positions. The game allowed for the companies to set aside there differences and compete as one team. Something they will bring back home and incorporate in their own work ethics (trust building)
People with different backgrounds, such as location and company, mostly do not share one goal. However the Portuguese coach uses the football game to create a common goal to achieve their success. His leadership clearly addresses setting super ordinate goals and allow for equal opportunity for all members. (Leadership)
Integrate differences within a small team might be relatively easy. However to amplify the achievement from a small football team to whole company is obviously a challenge. In DHL Portugal, they did this by sharing their trophy, but letting it travel to the various offices and putting their experiences on the front page of the corporate web site. This to make all Portuguese DHL employees aware of the success, showing that cooperation among the different regions and companies is key.
2.3. DHL ways of integration for effective teamwork
Preserving DHL’s innovative and entrepreneurial culture isn’t easy when a company grows as fast and as far afield as DHL has. Over the years, the football tournament bas become a place to foster shared values, important in an international company where employees are in constant contact across borders. With company manager’s commitment to vows to continue to foster the spirit and culture they can yield form the tournament, this is clear evidence of DHL’s effort towards to cultivate a hybrid culture within their corporate.
With the merger of very formal Deutsche Post, with the more liberal DHL and Danza there were some genuine concerns about the cultural issues between those three companies and lack of corporate identity However tournament has proven to be key to successful integration. In fact it created a culture, which combines the best of all three companies. Furthermore an event like the tournament is a good way to improve the company’s more formal integration.
In terms of communication issues, the tournament has brought lots of opportunity to all of participants to mingle, from the CEO to couriers. Giving people from different levels of the company the chance to mingle also yields benefits, from boosting morale to offering top management a better feel for rank-and-file concerns. Not only hierarchy mingle but also geographical mingle has happened. Like Anabela from Portugal can have a chance to chats with one of French colleagues about how differ their processes are. This would bring a benefit to understand each other and will be beneficial when they come across an opportunity to work on a future project together.
How about the leadership? Alder (1997) and Snow et al (1996) argue that integration of differences is an important responsibility of team leadership. David H and Karen W. also state that one of key factors of successful teamwork is effective team leadership.
Through the opening and closing comments from the co-CEO, Peter Kruse regarding continuous commitment for fostering the hybrid culture that yield from the event, DHL employees should be able to understand their common goal and values as a whole team under the DHL name such as teamwork and cooperation
At a national scale, the leaders of the Portuguese team provide a prime example of clear and committed leadership. The general manager, Americo and the team coach, Rui both were able to encourage and lead their team, for them to set aside their differences and work together for a higher cause. Or as Americo states, ‘we have a winning attitude, whether it’s in customer service or corporate citizenship or football.
Snow et al. (1996) indicate the importance of trust in virtual teamwork in order to prevent geographical and psychological distance. As seen above, DHL is operating over 220 countries with 225,000 employees. With DHL’s business characteristics virtual teamwork cannot be avoided. However the tournament allows the employees to meet face to face in an informal environment, enabling mutual trust and understanding, thus improving their teamwork.
Conclusion: Is the soccer game and the final result worth the investment?
Yes! Although even senior management of DHL has been skeptical at times, the football tournament as a team building exercise has helped bring together the extended network of employees. Furthermore, merging with two other European delivery and shipping companies increased the need to integrate their differences.
Indeed it is very difficult to quantify the benefits of the team building exercise. However as Peter, the company co-CEO, has put, ‘this is a better integration exercise than any blueprint you could come up with. If we can transfer the spirit of these two days to our business life, no one is going to stop us.’ Looking at the entrepreneurial background of DHL and the company culture, the football tournament has proven to be a valuable tool to create cross cultural awareness and at the same time enhance the corporate identity.
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