Sports is often about individual accomplishments, from the marathon runner who crosses the finish line to the 2010 Wimbledon player who “stood” triumphant after surviving an 11-hour tennis match that spanned three days.
Yet, many people, me included, often look to team sports as a metaphor for the components that make a successful business. From solid communication skills to chemistry, teamwork is central to business success, whether one is starting a two-person technology company in a Silicon Valley garage or building a North American start-up from a major South Korean conglomerate.
In my experience, especially as a senior leader at CorFire, I’d argue that teamwork is even more essential in the second scenario. In growing our established South Korean brand into a well-known global player in the mobile commerce arena, CorFire’s senior leadership quickly understood that we wanted and needed the entire team to create a cohesive unit in which individuality is accepted but self-interest is not. Moreover, each team member would have a starting spot in making the company a winner in its space.
Mobile-ize your team
While the U.S. and European markets are generating buzz about the massive move to mobile commerce, South Koreans have been living the mobile lifestyle for years. Interestingly, a teamwork approach, where there are closer relationships between the cell phone companies and the government, has created an environment where the South Korean players in the ecosystem work together to deliver the solutions that make mobile commerce adoption a reality.
With the South Korean mobile commerce business model as an example, CorFire recognized the important role that solid internal teamwork would play in guiding our success. To build a global team at CorFire, we looked internationally at the various companies, from Sears to Samsung to General Electric to Google, that had successfully expanded their reach and built their brands on a national scale.
Build a solid structure
Certainly, these successful global companies, especially in the technology arena, can attribute much of their success to innovation, research and development. Yet, many of the leaders from within these organizations would also point to their organizational structure — i.e., their team — as playing an important role in their growth.
From these examples, we crystallized the broader ideas into strategies and tactics that made sense for our organization and our aspirational goal of bringing the mobile lifestyle to North America.
Keep doors open
We started with an open-door/open-communication approach that encouraged employees at all levels to speak freely to senior leadership. While some fear that open-door policies provide an easy venue through which to complain, we see our employees as our creativity channel, and we want to make sure they have the access to share their ideas for making our company, products and brand better.
Additionally, CorFire looked for individuals who could leverage their expertise across the organization. Our goal was to build a fluid, flexible team where individuals would be knowledgeable about the entire company, from sales to product development. This cross-functional structure allows for interaction between everyone within the organization and connects the team at a deeper level.
Stimulate and galvanize
Finally, we also expect and encourage employees throughout CorFire to look for ways to energize and inspire the broader team. This is done through a variety of informal processes and settings such as open discussion in company meetings and formal processes such as employee peer review.
South Korea is well known for its work ethic. In fact, a 2008 story in a well-known U.S. daily newspaper quoted figures by the 30-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that showed that South Korean workers averaged 2,357 hours on the job in 2006, compared to American workers who averaged around 1,800 hours that year. While those numbers are several years old, I’d surmise that they are holding true to form.
However, despite the rigorous work schedule, the South Korean workplace centers on teamwork, relationships and trust.
My idea for building a global workplace at CorFire did not include replacing a typical North American business culture (to the extent there is one) with a more traditional South Korean one. The beauty and excitement in building a global company is that we, as a team, have a blank canvas. We have the ability to take the best of both worlds to build a culture that is excited and energized about achieving our mission and being the bellwether for the new global brand.
Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.