United We Stand

Taming The Beast

Large companies often make excellent alliance partners. Yet, for a small company, working with a large corporation can be tricky. The inherently contrary cultures of large and small businesses frequently lead to conflicts and misunderstandings, says Richard Hagberg, Ph.D., a corporate psychologist and president of Hagberg Consulting Group in Foster City, California. Following are the top five things you must know about the inner workings of a large company before entering into an alliance:

1. Office politics. Large companies are typically more political than small companies, says Hagberg. If you're forming an alliance, recognize there may be hidden agendas that you're not aware of. Similarly, keep in mind that employees, particularly those in upper management, may not be free to share information and express ideas for political reasons.

2. They mean business. Unlike your small business, an employee in a large company is one of many. That means you'll be working in less of a "family" atmosphere than you're probably accustomed to. Employees will want to spend less time on pleasant formalities and relationship building and more time focusing on the task at hand.

3. Conformity is key. In most corporate cultures, conformity rather than uniqueness is highly valued. Do your best to fit in--and don't take it personally if your relationship with alliance partners is strictly business. "You may feel as if you're dealing with an impersonal beast," Hagberg says.

4. Bureaucratic layers. Because of a large company's bureaucratic nature, it can be difficult to get things moving quickly. When forming an alliance, find out how decisions get made, with whom the power lies and, ultimately, the best strategy for getting things done.

5. Loss of control. Big organizations have all kinds of procedures, systems and rules they probably want you to follow. You may feel like you've lost a bit of the freedom you had when running the show yourself--and you probably have.

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: United We Stand.

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