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Solving Relationship Problems in Corporate Partnering

Larraine Segil, MBA, JD
Larraine Segil, MBA, JD

The Situation:

Two companies in a co-promotion alliance, Toys, Inc. (a medium-sized consumer products company), and YummyEats (a large fast food service company), were worried about a joint product launch they were about to do together. They had heard that a competitor was about to launch a competing product. All of a sudden, the pressure was on.

Despite minor differences, the team had been working together on the design of the product launch for a few months. But now that the launch date was accelerated, problems began to appear — the team was arguing, some team members even wanted to disengage, indicating a bigger problem below the surface.  Soon the only agreement amongst the team members was that their working relationship was a mess. Something had to be done – and fast.

The Problems:

  • Team members from both companies attributed bad intentions to actions and messages from each other.
  • Members of both companies had perceptions that “the other side” was not delivering on their commitments.
  • Personality tensions regularly flared up between individuals from each organization, slowing down progress and reinforcing frustrations and negative feelings.
  • Certain people from each company insisted upon being involved in every decision and activity, slowing productivity.

The Solution:

The Toys, Inc. team members asked the YummyEats relationship manager to create an online “behavior analysis,” and asked the members of the joint team to complete it. By gathering data through this anonymous mechanism, the team members were much more honest about how they saw the relationship than they may have been in person.

They Discovered:

  • Team members did not share a common set of assumptions about how each would behave when working together on a daily basis.
  • There was a wide gap between the partners’ corporate cultures, with no mutual appreciation for the differences and no mechanism for taking advantage of each partner’s unique and complementary strengths.
  • Trust had completely deteriorated between the two organizations, to the point where neither partner trusted the other to do what they said they would or to do it well.
  • The partners lacked agreed-on ways for making decisions together.
  • Individual team members did not have the skills to deal with difficult team and interpersonal issues that had developed.

The Lesson:

To avoid the culture clash that can come when two companies partner together, start by laying down the groundwork by which the newly merged team will operate. This should include establishing common goals and agreed-on ways for making decisions together. There should also be time for team members to get to know one another and acknowledge shared and contrasting cultural norms. The goal is to ultimately develop a mutual appreciation for the partner differences and a mechanism for taking advantage of each partner’s unique and complementary strengths. This way, trust is formed and conflict-resolution procedures are in place.

About Larraine Segil

Larraine Segil is a regular commentator for CNN and CNBC and presents keynotes on domestic and global alliances, mergers, and critical customer supplier, channel, and outsourcing relationships. She a senior research fellow at the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, a member of several advisory boards, and is the author of numerous books, including: Intelligent Business Alliances, Fast Power Your E-Business, Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization: Ten Essential Traits for Managers, and Partnering –The New Face of Leadership. Her latest book, Measuring the Value of Partnering, is the first on alliance metrics.

Segil has taught executive education at The California Institute of Technology, Pasadena for the past 24 years, and has created two endowment funds for scholarships for women managers in strategic alliancesone at the joint JDMBA program at the Peter Drucker School of Management and Southwestern University School of Law, and the other for the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management  Presidential Key Executive MBA Program. She holds BA Honors in Latin and Classics, JD and MBA degrees. Learn more about Larraine Segil at

Author of the article
Larraine Segil, MBA, JD
Larraine Segil, MBA, JD
Larraine Segil, MBA, JD
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