Virtual team Leadership

Updated: May 31

Nike's explosive growth throughout the early years was a result of a matrix organization. People that came in from traditional vertically driven and siloed organizations would either figure it out and thrive, or get frustrated and leave.


Nike NAPC Virtual Team Summit with 7 countries represented

Organizationally, the company was aligned by product type ( footwear and apparel). In the mid 1990's, following the result of a "Future Vision" initiative, the company evolved into a product category focus with a vertically-aligned supply chain and team.


The organizational evolution anticipated growth, focus and change in the marketing and category dynamics.




Organizational history of the Nike Matrix:



1980's- We made great shoes and some apparel. The strong factory partners got the best programs and with limited technologies there were high, medium and lower capability manufacturers. Product was "horse traded" based on price and volume.
1990's- We began to see unique specialization in products. Running shoes are different than court shoes. Some manufacturers were better equipped to build products aligned with their expertise. We aligned product categories from design through manufacturing with everyone contributing expertise and value throughout the process. 
2000's- We began to evolve and combine footwear, apparel and equipment as category business units and saw the benefit of regional product creation and alignment. 
2010's- We moved from a combination of regional product creation and category focus  to a more focused category business unit and eliminated many of the regional products in an effort to make sure that the category led with regional flavor. 



This was the beginning of Nike leaders embracing the concept of leading virtual teams. In the late 1990's, Nike created the Product Creation Director role. This role led the execution of the product from design, development, engineering and assigning a dedicated manufacturing facility. This allowed for the team at the world headquarters in Beaverton to clearly communicate the vision and mission of the category and make sure that the performance features were designed to manufacture with the extended teams at the factories to be fully aligned.





Rather than "horse trading" to get the biggest volume models to be at each facility, it was exciting to have the team on the ground making the products just as engaged as the designers, developers, engineers and product management team members. The alignment allowed for everyone on the team to be empowered to contribute and also celebrate in the pride associated with the success of the product.




Nike's ability to respond in advance of the market and drive strategic advantages serving the customer, athletes and sales channels continues to be best in class. We had to make sure that the people in the organization had the independence and sense of team and responsibility to be an important part of the product creation process.


Virtual teams need an aligned vision and mission



The current requirement to work remotely and virtually is not a new concept but the tools have improved and the fundamentals for success are still grounded in a collaborative and diverse team environment where every person on that team adds value.



I had just completed a 7-year product creation leadership role in Tennis ( 2003-2009). During that time we took a highly visible yet small revenue producing category to a leadership position in the sport.

  • We invented a new rubber compound.

  • We created an athlete and event-driven product delivery process.

  • We created the best fitting last for high performance female athletes.


The Tennis team was virtual and focused with a fully integrated manufacturing partner.

The entire team from product marketing to development, engineering, and all the way to our specialty product line workers felt as connected to Federer, Nadal, Serena or Maria as the rest our Brand Marketing team.


Federer at the 2009 Australian Open





















in 2009, Nike had a massive reorganization shift in advance of the recession that made category businesses lead




2010's- We moved from a combination of regional product creation and category focus to a category business unit focus and eliminated many of the regional products in an effort to make sure that the category led with regional input to the market. 


The massive shift in strategy in 2009 moved people around the company in roles that were set up anticipating future growth. For those of us that had been through it before and witnessed the results we needed to prepare our teams to align to this new strategy within the product creation offense.


The original Nike Principles drove our response:






There were thousands of Nike teammates that were let go as a result of this organizational change. Once the dust settled and people landed in their roles it became clear that Categories Lead.

Regions Support.




The move from a small performance category to a regional product creation team that now supported the overall category business strategies was a challenge.


Many of us went from one category to this regional creation team that needed to follow the lead of the categories. Our product briefs usually came in late but were expected to create an aligned and "value-added" product to compliment the category's product offering.


The formula for a high performance virtual team:


  • Build the team based on experience and learning capacity.

  • Align the World Headquarter Team to the Category Teams. Spend time understanding the best practices, sourcing strategies, material expectations and sit within the categories business unit to become an advocate for their product.

  • Align the sourcing to the manufacturers aligned with those categories in Asia.

  • Select Virtual Team members that are aligned to the manufacturer as well as the category.

  • The role of the Virtual Team Leader is to break down the silos of communication, product creation, materials, pricing and manufacturing and build trust with the categories to show that we are an added value to the overall category business.

  • Create a communication strategy and product timeline that is built from the team that is assembled.

We assembled a team and built an identity and brand within a brand ( North America Product Creation-NAPC) became a great destination to work. I put together the strategy of how we were going to work with the categories and rebranded the team, began to attract great talent and pulled together a 4-day summit with the NAPC Virtual Team in Mui Ne Vietnam.

We gathered 28 team members from Nike, Factories, Liaison Offices and Regions

( North America, Europe, Asia Pacific).







The 4 days included factory and Nike innovation presentations as we travelled together in a bus to the destinations. The offsite was simple. Travel together. Dine together. Each team member shared their vision for the NAPC Virtual Team and how we all succeed. It included best practices for communication, schedules, product quality, delivery, and mutual sharing of those best practices so that the categories could adopt and implement if showed improvement. The final day was creating the NAPC Playbook that would be communicated throughout the organization so that we were viewed as a strategic weapon for the categories.



NAPC Virtual Team Presentation of proposed Best Practices

The NAPC Virtual Team truly showed that a diverse team of people that worked with different companies and disciplines are capable of pulling together high performance products and processes and everyone feels as if they contributed to the success of the business.



Serving The Athlete

I would love to work with your company or organization to build a strategy that brings your virtual team together to create a great place to work, deliver great product or serve your customers with a high performance and sustainable business model.



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Reach out to me at Michael@incubatoru.com to book a consultation to help transform your team.







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