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Feb 5th, 2013 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Big Company Syndrome

As you grow your company you will almost certainly hit several stages of the “Big Company Syndrome”:

It starts out innocently enough: Just you and your buddies working out of a garage — with no to little need for coordination, communication flowing naturally and decisions being made over pizza and beer in the night.

Then you hit the magic ten — the moment when you start to have meetings (yes, the dreaded M-word). It takes some effort to make sure everyone is up-to-date with everything which is going on. Decisions are made more deliberately. Things slow down a tiny bit — thank god not enough that it is a problem, but you start to feel it whenever your senses are dialed in.

And then you grow. With every employee you start to incur some overhead for communications and coordination. You start to get specialized. Suddenly not everyone knows what the other one is working on precisely. You start to work in teams. You have “company meetings”.

When you hit the mystical one hundred things start to feel different. By now you have groups and most likely hierarchy. You definitely have become a “company”. And yet — it still feels like college. You know most of your colleagues by name and for pretty much everyone you at least recognize their face.

At last, when you hit 200 to 250 people, things go down the drain. There is a huge body of work in the organizational psychology department on this — once you cross this threshold everything is different. As you lost the capacity to know or even recognize everyone in your company your brain stops caring. You focus on your group, the people on your floor, your peers. You have hierarchies, people work in groups, groups talk to groups and if you don’t pay close attention the worst cases of “Big Company Syndrome” develop: People fighting for their fiefdoms, headcount becomes a status symbol, groups focussing on their goals with little consideration of the overall goals. The list is endless — and everyone who ever worked in a large corporation has most likely his own stories and battle scars.

It doesn’t need to be that way. From the radical approach of Gore, the maker of the GoreTex fibre, who effectively splits groups into their own entities to avoid crossing the magic threshold of corporate doom to simply making sure you have strong and actively lived company culture: You can prepare your organization for this — but it is something which you need to do every step of the way. You can’t let it linger and “get to it when you’re 200 people strong”. Work on your culture now find your answer to the question: What kind of company do you want to build?

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