Tip 8: Understand the Cultural Differences

When two people begin occupying the same space – as roommates or dorm-mates, as co-workers using the same office, as a couple living together – one of the many possible sources of conflict that can spring between them is the way they do things. One person may be messy, while the other is fastidious to a fault. One may be a vegan, while the other is a dedicated meat-eater. Each one of them has a culture of their own, and if the parties involved don’t make the effort to understand their cultural differences and make a compromise, the relationship is sure to break down.

The same is true with building business partnerships. 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 simply by “the way we do things around here.”

Even your next door neighbor company will have a different culture than your own company has. In larger organizations, you will see that even within the company different cultures appear. Every department will have its own micro-culture with its own habits and values, which might differ slightly from the culture of other departments and from the overall company culture.

Company cultures might even be driven by the culture of the country itself. For instance, a French company will likely have a different internal culture than an American company. Think about elements like how you deal with timeliness and eating lunch, for instance. In some cultures, a meeting should start punctually on the hour to be considered on time; for some, starting ten minutes after the hour is still on time. In some cultures, it’s acceptable for a person to take a sandwich to their desk so they can eat lunch while working; for others, afternoon tasks are impossible without a proper, multi-course meal.

Sometimes, culture is not an issue; you are two of a kind and working together is seamless for you. However, more often than not, the two cultures require attention and the alliance will probably create a third culture within the companies.

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

Sometimes, your partner will offer you a helping hand so you can learn about their company culture firsthand and with their guidance. Sometimes, you have to do your own homework to discover how your partner’s organizational culture works. For instance, an Internet search on the key phrase “company culture” will bring up pages describing different companies’ unique culture.

Whatever you find about the culture of your prospective partner online or elsewhere, you need to realize that this is the desired, marketing-justified, description of their culture. This might not be the actual culture that exists within their offices. On the other hand, it might in fact be their culture indeed, but you will still need to assess it yourself. After your assessment, you should, jointly with your counterpart in the partnership, create a collaborative way of working that fits both company cultures, thus creating the third culture mentioned earlier.

Merging cultures with your partner and finding a way to do things together shall push you even further towards your partnership’s success.


I am publishing my ebook “25 tips for successful Partnerships and Alliances” in parts here on my website. Every other week a tip from the book will be shared, in the weeks in between I will publish my regular column. If you prefer to read the tips in the ebook faster rather than wait a full year then click here to purchase your own copy of the book.

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