Tip 25: Understand the cultural differences

When establishing a partnership with another company, you are bringing two different cultures together. These are the kind of cultures that are not primarily driven by geography, but by “the way we do things around here”.

Even your next door neighbor company will have a different culture than your own company has. Sometimes culture is no issue; you are two of a kind and working together is seamless. However, more often than not, the two cultures require attention and the alliance will possibly create a third culture within the companies.

In larger organizations, you will see that even within your own company different cultures appear. Every department will have its own micro-culture with its habits and values that might differ from the company culture.

Company cultures might be driven by country cultures: a French company will likely have a different internal culture than an American company. Think about elements as how you deal with timeliness and lunch for instance. Some cultures will experience a meeting start punctually at the hour to be on time; some will feel that 10 minutes after the hour is still on time. Some will take a quick sandwich while working at their desk for lunch and some can’t do their afternoon tasks without a proper, multi-course, lunch.

Understanding cultural differences inside your own organization and your partner’s organization is essential. It is the first step towards a common partnership culture for success.

Sometimes companies will offer you a helping hand to learn about their company culture. Type in an internet search on the words “company culture” and you will, for instance, find the pages of Rijk Zwaan, describing their unique company culture centered around involvement, teamwork, and respect. Another one you will quickly find is the description of “the open culture often associated with startups” describing Google’s company culture.*

Whatever you find about the culture of your prospective partner, do realize that this is the desired, marketing justified, description of their culture. It might, in fact, be the culture indeed, but you will still need to assess it yourself. Then jointly with your counterpart create a collaborative way of working that fits both company cultures.

* I am not familiar with the cultures of both Google and Rijk Zwaan. These examples are used as examples of two of the first companies I found through a search that expresses their culture clearly on their websites.


This article is part of a series of articles extending upon the 25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances article.  These 25 tips have been rewritten and published in the eBook “25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances“. See this page to purchase your own copy of the ebook in Kindle, PDF and ePub format.