Different organisational cultures reconciled


Client: A major UK food and clothes retailer and a major global NGO.

Licensee: KPMG.

The NGO worked in partnership to ensure that the retailer’s decisions about sourcing of commodities such as cotton and fish were as sustainable as they could be. This relationship was up for renegotiation and the two individuals in the respective organisations with responsibility for making the partnership work wanted to do everything they could to set the next seven year agreement off on the soundest possible footing.

The issue

Both organisations stated their desire to build on their history together and ‘make the relationship great.’ However the two organisations had very different cultures, oriented respectively toward the environment and financial return. Although both parties were immensely committed to a shared vision, they nevertheless clashed when historic prejudices got in the way. In particular the NGO believed it could do much more to support the retailer on its sustainability journey if this artificial barrier could be broken down.

It became apparent that the most senior individuals from each party were judging the organisation-to-organisation relationship on the quality of their personal relationship. This personal relationship was particularly strong. Problems in the relationship between their respective teams would then be escalated for these leaders to resolve. The two leaders would resolve the problem, but neither could implement the changes needed to prevent the problem arising again.

Type of project:

Standalone, one-off project

Key insights

Strong one-to-one relationships, particularly at senior levels, do not inevitably produce strong organisational relationships – though this may not be immediately obvious.

The methodology was easily able to highlight where change was needed – in the degree of access each party felt they had, in how responsive they felt the other party were, and in the breadth and depth of their understanding of each other. All these were highlighted as areas for improvement.


A new basis for the relationship was established to which both parties were able to commit.

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