Client Story

Creating Culture and Clarity in Times of COVID: a Pharma Story of People and Change


Open Water’s focus on digital and online learning meant they were well equipped to meet the startling challenges of 2020. The people and culture change experts were able to pivot quickly and seamlessly, from delivering face-to-face client engagements to offering highly engaging global online workshops from their digital studio in London.

It has been a new experience for Open clients – one they have embraced wholeheartedly with the knowledge they had to prepare culturally to embrace change along side the complexities of working remotely in a challenging commercial environment.


How do you drive culture change and new behaviors critical to delivering successful business outcomes when you are in different locations and have never even met?  How do you build trust following an acquisition and in times of Covid? How do you prepare for the next big organizational change?


Alexion, a leading global rare diseases pharmaceutical company for over 25 years, approached Open Water for support in providing clarity and cohesion following the acquisition in July 2020 of Portola Pharmaceuticals, an American biotechnology company focused on life-threatening blood-related disorders.

Both organizations had to learn to act as “One Team” and develop behaviors and mindsets needed to foster a highly collaborative culture. The first requirement was how to build trust quickly. Alexion also wanted to ensure it equipped its leadership with the right tools and mindset to succeed in a highly competitive market in the most challenging of times.

With support from Open Water, Alexion and Portola would merge the best of their two organizations and create a strong team, ready to innovate, embrace change and rise to new business challenges together.



The need for alignment

From Thought Leader Liaisons to Institutional Account Managers, high-performing individuals often believe their success is down to a “lone wolf” approach. The culture of competitiveness, particularly in the pharma industry, is so strong it can be hard to shift behaviors and mindset to adopt a more collaborative way of working. This needed to change to dissolve silos and build a climate of mutual trust.

Open Water facilitated and coached the Alexion Leaders’ Forum to help their leaders articulate the culture needed to succeed and re-charter their regional teams. The Forum exposed several challenges ranging from difficulty in building rapport to competing priorities. By raising awareness and understanding shared goals, Open Water helped put critical topics on the table for open discussion. Common goals included developing a new organizational identity, serving clients better, and connecting as ‘One Team’.


Creating a compelling narrative 

When bringing two organizations together in a post-merger integration, creating a common identity based on shared values and beliefs and a shared purpose is vital.

Open Water decided to partner with The Storytellers to build a strong common narrative that illustrated the new organization’s shared values and goals. By listening and observing, Open Water and The Storytellers set up the framework for building a six-chapter emotionally-compelling narrative. The aim was to empower all 250 people to feel invested in creating a story that valued trust, cohesion, and clarity.



Measurable results


By identifying the key challenges, desired outcomes, and the skills and mindsets need to achieve them, Open Water has given Alexion the necessary clarity and cohesion to unite them so they could truly move forward into the futue. They did this by:

  • Outlining and defining a combined company narrative and culture
  • Identifying obstacles and creating lasting, impactful solutions
  • Uniting them as a team
  • Prioritizing goals
  • Holding delegates accountable for staying on the path to success
  • Demonstrating inherent value to shareholders through measured results.


Creating alignment drives purpose. This, in turn, has laid the groundwork for strategic outcomes and builds enthusiasm and energy from everyone involved.

Following the online sessions, John Kennedy, US Complement Division VP/BU Lead, thanked Open Water for “helping our team co-create their own sense of purpose, self-belief, and optimism.”

“We’ve taken a “loose federation of colleagues—at a fragile moment in time—and helped them feel a sense of belonging. We had an impact on them personally, and it will accelerate our progress as a business unit.”




Not only did the executive leaders emerge from this journey aligned and connected with a common purpose, but the new teams learned about communicating openly and tackling obstacles head-on. Open Water has equipped them with the skills and mindset that will enable them to embrace and thrive in an environment of continual change.

While their journey is ongoing, they have made huge progress, and those sessions are just the start of defining the next stage of their journey.

As Kennedy put it: “The week was a huge success in my eyes. Thank you for leading us through it. I’m excited to continue our story!”

Open Water supports organizations seeking clarity, trust, and cohesion around their purpose and goals by using science and psychology-based strategies to create positive and productive purpose-driven cultures. If you’re interested in unlocking potential and driving culture change at your organization, we’d love to hear from you today.