Unless you work as an executive (or a senior manager), you won’t have access to most of the internal conversations shaping the direction of a larger business.
Startups and small firms (< 20 people) may be a bit different since the entire team is small enough and every person matters. But if you plan to build a different type of company and grow it to 200, 500, or 1000+ people, their process is likely not what you’re going to follow anyway.
That’s fine if you want to run a small shop, work as a solopreneur, or open a company that isn’t supposed to grow rapidly.
Some people believe that working for a large corporation is a great learning point for starting your own business. The problem lies in the enterprise processes, which are not applicable to a small team.
A large corporation has established protocols, layers of bureaucracy, and specialized departments for almost every function, from human resources to marketing.
These systems are designed to manage complexity and scale but can be cumbersome and inefficient when applied to a smaller operation.
For instance, a large corporation’s decision-making process often involves multiple approval levels, which could be more practical for a startup where quick decisions are essential for survival.
Moreover, the resource allocation in big companies is vastly different. They have the luxury of dedicated teams and substantial project budgets, something a small business can rarely afford.
Implementing similar resource-heavy strategies with a small team could lead to financial strain and operational inefficiencies.
Additionally, the corporate culture and work environment often need to be more directly transferable. Large corporations may have a more formal and hierarchical culture, which may not suit the more agile and collaborative nature commonly found in smaller teams.
I recently heard a quote that is applicable to smaller organizations.
“Every time your headcount grows with 3 additional team members, some of your processes are going to break.”
Applying an enterprise process to a small team is the fastest route to killing the business. The overhead only makes sense for larger teams.
In a larger org, you are supposed to hire rapidly for well-known roles following a predefined process. That’s the only sustainable way to scale your business.
Small teams still shape their own company culture – and agility is their key benefit.
If you have to replicate an existing team, here are several approaches you can leverage:
- Join a small company – 20ish people – and spend a few years there. You will start early enough and will be in charge of some processes yourself. Best-case scenario, the company will grow to 50–80 people over the next few years – and you’ll see how processes evolve, what techniques are used during hiring, and what are the flaws of the initial experiments.
- Make sure that the company is closely related to what you plan to do. That doesn’t mean “stealing one’s business” – but opening a software shop while working for McDonald’s won’t teach you the best practices of software consultancies or product-based businesses.
- Network actively. You will meet people working in similar organizations. And you will learn a lot about what they do, how their teams are structured, what the process is like in other companies.
- Follow some of your top competitors closely. Successful companies try to engage in all forms of marketing, advertising, and PR. Their top members often speak at events, sharing valuable nuggets of their own workflows.
Combine that with reading books about startups and business development, and you’ll get there sooner rather than later.