As designers, our clients trust us to define authentic spaces that reflect their DNA and ultimately contribute to their business success. As our clients’ global portfolios have grown, so have ours in rapidly expanding markets around the world such as China, India, Latin America, and North Africa.
The true measure of our collective success, however, is in our ability to forge longstanding client relationships that are rooted in—and represent—the communities where we do business. As Gensler expands globally, we have also broadened our talent development strategy to foster a culturally fluent workforce to help our clients connect with local customers—anywhere in the world.
Any firm that aspires to develop a truly global-ready workforce needs a plan to formalize mentoring and learning opportunities; technologies cannot take the place of real human interaction. To that end, we developed and formalized the Gensler Exchange in the past year. For our global employees, it’s an inter-country exchange of knowledge, experience, and ideas, because we must understand the cultural and physical characteristics of the people and places we design for.
The Gensler Exchange comprises four distinct tracks ranging from one-week job shadowing, to a global internship program, to six-month inter-country project assignments that connect offices to talent on other continents. The tracks are:
• “Global Intern” brings talent from countries outside the United States to U.S. hub offices for internships. Participants then return to their countries of origin for permanent employment with Gensler.
• “One to One” allows an individual to shadow a firm leader in another country for one week.
• “On Assignment” allows Gensler employees the opportunity to take on projects on other continents for weeks or months at a time.
• “Knowledge Exchange” lets a practice area mentor establish or further develop Gensler offices in emerging markets in Asia and South America, primarily.
A retail practice area leader from Seattle might spend a week in São Paulo, Brazil, collaborating with clients and learning the ins and outs of the local market. An intern from Bangkok (see office, page 126), could spend the summer in Atlanta, Houston, or London, imparting cultural knowledge while developing valuable relationships with colleagues.
The rhythm and culture of global teams
With feet on the ground in the countries where we work, we are better able to establish ourselves in the rhythm and culture of global teams. Gensler also aligns with local partners in the 97 countries where we have projects, a model that benefits both large and small design firms in the U.S. and in developing regions by providing complementary experience in new markets and filling gaps in expertise. All the while, we are building a repository of the best practices in global design. The retail market in Asia, for example, offers a sophisticated approach to technology integration, scale, and experimentation that has influenced projects in other markets. In the UK, we’ve explored new models in law firm design that we successfully introduced to clients in the U.S.
The Gensler Exchange relies heavily on our commitment to our one-firm firm philosophy nurturing employees’ careers, entrepreneurship, and leadership development because it involves giving up a prized performer anywhere from a week to six months. It requires real leadership to see beyond a team’s project-at-hand to support the long-term development of a young-to-mid-career professional and the firm’s growth in another city far away.
An experience in Bangalore
One of our most recent participants in the Exchange, Justin Jones, a project architect/designer from Gensler Atlanta, recently completed an assignment in Bangalore, India, assisting the office to come fully online as Gensler Bangalore.
“The experience was genuine, inspiring, and eye-opening,” says Jones, reflecting on the lessons learned from his time in India. “Understanding that the team is more important than the individual, even if it hinders a personal desire to advance, was a major discovery for me. And I think the biggest contribution that I made to our team in Bangalore—where everything is built in cast concrete or masonry—was a better understanding of architecture and construction materials and methods used in the U.S. where gypsum board, metal studs, and dimensional lumber are more commonly used.”
Justin returned to Atlanta more firmly rooted in the global community of practice, and that is a worthy ambition for all of us in the industry as we seek to advance the goals of our clients, and our business around the globe.
While in Bangalore, Jones worked with Sonmoy Chatterjee, the office director of Gensler Bangalore. “Hosting Justin was a great experience,” Chatterjee says. “The Gensler Exchange develops great bonds between teams and individuals, and the enduring friendship and team spirit has been one of the foundations on which our successes have been built. For a young office like Gensler Bangalore, these exchanges are important for our staff. It’s an opportunity to share, learn, imbibe some of the culture, and get it back to our office.”
The basic tenet behind the Gensler Exchange—that professionals with a global point of view help us bridge geographic boundaries with greater ease—is applicable to any firm engaging in global markets. The experience enriches the individual, the office, and the firm.
Diane Hoskins, FAIA, is executive director and southeast regional managing principal at Gensler. She is based in Washington, D.C.