Case Study – GSK

How to introduce the new organisation structure to employees in a sufficient and meaningful way?

This way of organizing, originally designed by American Space program organization NASA, typically forms teams of people from different disciplines and departments (horizontal) without having them leave the structure of their respective departments (vertical). This ‘matrix format’ is especially appropriate for large projects (e.g. space travel) and product development (e.g. vaccines), but it does pose a set of specific challenges.

Optimal collaboration

At GSK, matrix teams are involved in the entire end-to-end chain of activities surrounding the development of new vaccines:

  • Identifying the societal/medical need
  • Research & development
  • Launching the product in a commercially successful manner
  • Further development

Since the organization’s hierarchical structure is broken by the matrix team, the teams need to develop a separate structure to ensure:

  • Clear project leadership
  • Prioritizing available resources
  • Optimal collaboration without disturbing the vertical balance

Reflection and theory

By creating room for reflection and relevant theoretical models, InContext has managed to develop a simulation with a tremendously steep learning curve. The game remains challenging, frustrating and fun throughout the full two-day program. As a result, participants immediately experience their team mates’ frame of reference, with immediate consequences for the quality of their collaboration.

The simulation was first rolled out in 2013 and is currently played several times per year at multiple sites in Belgium, Italy, and the USA

Company simulation LifeSaver

GSK and InContext have jointly composed a tailored program to help teams who develop vaccines grow into cohesive and united teams with an eye for the big picture; the company simulation LifeSaver. The program presents a set of important dilemmas:

  • How do formal lines of communication hold up against informal contacts/decisions?
  • How do you align individual and team objectives with organization objectives; how can we promote an enterprise mindset?
  • How do you balance personal leadership and the willingness to execute tasks?

InContext developed a company simulation that precisely reflects the specific dilemmas that are relevant in vaccine development at GSK.

The game is played by 30 participants who compete with each other in two teams. What is important is that participants don’t fulfill a role similar to their real-life role, but instead play a role they are not familiar with. This helps them to explore an unknown situation with new demands, while they get to look at the organization from a fresh perspective. In doing so, they enlarge their frame of reference and understanding of other people’s perspectives. Participants immediately experience the effect of their behavior in the simulation. This is enhanced by the speed of the game which runs through a ten year process in a mere two days.