Dear Coach Alan,

What wisdom can you share about leading a new geographical satellite operation of an existing, established organization? Is it best to focus on a unified and consistent culture and cross-location collaboration? Or do you recommend the new arm of the organization to develop independently? What needs to be considered when you have team members in multiple locations?

 Dear Mike,

Thank you for sharing your question with Coach Alan. Also, thank you for answering my questions related to your startup.  You will see why it was important to know more about your specific situation in order to identify how coaching can help.

I will answer your question in two parts.  First, I will focus on how you will launch your satellite operation, including the strategy and culture that would support your success.  The second part will explore how aligned you are with your CEO on the goals and strategy for launching a successful satellite operation.  If the two of you are not aligned, I would coach you on how to obtain alignment before proceeding any further.

Before I respond, I would like you to understand that executive coaches work hard not to offer advice or, as you call it, “share wisdom.”  Rather, a coach will work with you by understanding your challenge and, through a process of inquiry, help you to structure your challenge in a way that clarifies what needs to be done to accomplish your goals.

Let me first describe the dilemma you face.  Whenever an established company opens up a new office or launches a new division, a challenging question will be whether to attempt to implement the culture of the established company or to create a new culture that is more likely to fit the customer base that it is selling into.

Since you are the leader of the satellite startup, I would first ask you what your short-term and long-term goals are.  I would also inquire about the strategy you have chosen to realize these goals. The culture you choose is a strategic decision.  Whatever you choose, the culture should serve the strategy and goals of your division.

So, here is your challenge.  You have two contrasting strategies and cultures.  The established company is more deliberate, engages in long-term, higher priced projects and is accustomed to controlling the work schedule.  By contrast, the satellite startup needs to establish its brand, customize its programs, and price its projects to be affordable to its customers. Your coach should be asking you questions about “how” you will achieve your goals.  What needs to happen for you to succeed?  As coaching proceeds, you should bring your experiences, both positive and negative, to your coaching sessions.  By reflecting on these experiences, you will gain insight and become clearer on the actions needed for success.

In my experience, most established companies are aware that satellite divisions need more flexibility to succeed. In your case, the established brand is relatively unknown in your new market, and the customers you plan to serve are different from those of the established company. I suspect if I asked you questions about your market and strategy, you would likely lean toward a more flexible, entrepreneurial approach to launch your business.  This would seem to fit your situation.

It is my understanding that your startup will use many of the expert resources from the established company. This presents you with a dilemma in dealing with personnel from the established culture and embedding them into your customer base. Ideally, you will be able to capture the advantages of both cultures.  I say “ideally,” because it could also be a major challenge for you.

From a coaching perspective, how will you integrate two cultures as they interact with each other?  Do you plan to “prep” the executives from the “mother ship”?  How will you prepare your own personnel to deal with these differences?  You may want to consider a strategy of only bringing in experts who can adapt to your customers’ needs and fit into your culture.   This is not very different from the structure of a matrix organization, in which experts are drawn from established departments and assigned to projects or programs that have a different customer base and culture.

Once you have clarity on these two contrasting strategies and cultures, you will need to share this with the CEO of the established company.  Your CEO will want to know your goals and strategy. Your ability to articulate why a more flexible strategy is likely to succeed will help you gain the commitment you need for a successful launch.  Your CEO will also want to know how you plan to utilize resources from the established company.  All of the thinking that went into your choice of a strategy and culture will be important to share with your CEO.  This is where alignment is crucial.  You will be well served to get a commitment to your goals and strategy.  This will give you the support you will need as you move forward with your new venture.

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