Whether it’s because you are starting a new job, got a transfer, or your company underwent a merger or acquisition, employees will always face culture clashes or turf battles. While many management gurus and corporate experts address why culture clashes arise, few get into the last mile: how to come out on top and have troops follow you.

For now, we’re examining what you must do to understand the situation, and in upcoming months, we’ll determine what one must do to come out on top of the battle.

Understand the dynamics

Never underestimate what you are walking into. When you get hired, you have absolutely no upper hand, unless of course you are appointed to head up a new department or company. In this instance, your experience and skills are valued and respected, but most of the time, you are abruptly placed in a situation that you may not necessarily be fully prepared for. What you must do is understand what is going on and determine which symptoms surround you before prescribing any remedies.

It gets even more delicate with mergers and acquisitions. Product lines may be complementary, but cultures rarely are. This gets even dicier with cross-border mergers. Of note, when Daimler and Chrysler went to the altar, it was intended to be a “merger of equals,” with each company bringing their strengths to the table.

This was theory in practice; German-based Daimler has totally taken command. The senior management is a reflection of Daimler, and the standards lean more towards German rather than American. As you can imagine, this has caused substantial strife within Chrysler. For one, it is a jab for the proud Americans to have handed over the keys of their number 3 carmaker to Germans.

The uppercut came when Daimler CEO Juergen Schremp handed executive powers of Chrysler to one of his German underlings. Interestingly, a recent article in Time even suggested that after much debate and soul searching, a good portion of the US-based employees were fine with a German being in charge, so long as he got the job done.

Of course, DaimlerChrysler is unique in that it was a cross-Atlantic merger, but even mergers between companies in the same city pose interesting problems for senior management because language and cultural traits are just one factor to consider when Titans clash.

Follow the leader

Whether you are starting a new job or blending departments, find out what people’s explicit roles are. This is easy, as titles are usually self-explanatory. This said, we all know that titles are a smokescreen for the employees’ roles and responsibilities; clearly, what is more important is the chain of command. Who reports to whom and more importantly, why?

At my last job, the Human Resource manager was shocked when the only question I had was “whom do I report to?” She bluntly asked why I didn’t care about the salary, stock or benefits. I replied that the benefits and stock were standard, and the salary, well, what salary? Actually, I confidently replied that they would raise it shortly. She laughed.

The idea though, is that I only cared to know whom I would be reporting to. If I had to report to several layers of managers, I would have balked. But I was challenged to report to the CEO and CFO because the company was going through a period where I knew I would get 10 years of experience in half a year.

This easily compensated the salary that would have been higher had I gone to a blue chip. But within weeks, the two main employees in the company saw that I added value, so when the salary discussion came up, it was not an issue. They made an offer that was above what I had wanted.

Make the most of your job and whom you answer to…

Climb the ladder, escalator style

Interestingly, when the time came for me to look for something new, one of the Vice-Presidents (who was above me in terms of rank, but whom I did not report to) asked me why I was leaving and whether I would be interested in working with him, as in under him. The position would have allowed me to make substantially more revenue, but would have provided little in terms of career advancement.

Although he was a great guy and very knowledgeable in what he did, I had no choice but to politely and respectfully decline. I wonder if it occurred to him that going from reporting to the CEO and CFO to reporting to a Vice-President who then reports to the CEO would be somewhat of a career faux pas.

While I usually do not let such window-dressing title games stand in the way of learning, I knew that I would regret it had I accepted the offer. Of course, the cash would have been nice, but it has never been about this.

Implicit roles

With time, I joined another company. This new company was everything I looked for, both in terms of job description and in particular because of the people that I was working with. While the organization was fairly flat, it took me some time to decipher who did what. I mean, it is not too hard to know that the VP of Sales is in charge of sales, but in the 21st century, titles don’t mean much, especially at companies that are changing on a daily basis.

I noticed for example, that the President reported to the VPs as much as the VPs reported to the President. Whether this was done subconsciously or because he believed in a true partnership remains to be seen, but this was not your average company, with egos and arrogance nowhere to be found. This was great, and partially explained the company’s success. It was also this mutual respect and unparalleled work ethic that made me sign on with the company in a heartbeat.

Of course, this company was fairly small and experiencing rapid growth, so the true challenge was a balancing act between not stepping on anyone’s toes and taking on as many responsibilities as possible.

The big boss

Interestingly, ask anyone who works in a big company and they will tell you, without hesitation, that their boss is a doorknob . They may be genuinely serious and mean no disrespect; it is just that large companies have too many captains and not enough soldiers. Everyone is standing around the oven but no one is willing to take out the turkey.

At an earlier company I worked for in financial services, I reported to a very kind and caring person, but… I will let you finish the sentence. This person had a lot of experience, as in years, but this was the extent of the “experience.”

I quickly realized that ambition and eagerness to follow a certain career path are fine and dandy, but I did not want to continue reporting to one doorknob after another. This was not going to be for me. So I went to a smaller company because at small companies, the overachievers (and underachievers) stand out. At large companies, to be average is desired… the rest are troublemakers.

Please do not think that I am being arrogant, but I just like seeing people who are on the ball. And when I see corporations rewarding incompetence, I feel bad for the companies’ shareholders and employees.

This is what I urge everyone who comes home only to complain to do: if your boss does not “get it” or is simply out of touch, then buddy, find yourself a new gig. Want to know why? Because your superior will always be ahead of you in that environment, as he will always have seniority. If the playground were fair, then you could shine, but when you have to suck up and conform to succeed, you do not succeed, you just become part of the furniture.

Get to know everyone well

Like it or not, people will clash, no matter how hard you try to be friendly. In fact, sometimes it is precisely your friendliness that alarms people who are accustomed to disrespect, lack of manners, aggressiveness, and are prone to thinking that you are after something, or are intending to pull the rug from beneath them.

These people are part of life: so just do your best to get along with them but do not stoop to their levels. Just focus on your job and the rest will fall into place. This topic could be a volume in itself, but not for today.

Business versus pleasure

One easy way to get to know everyone is by taking the initiative to get together with colleagues outside of the work environment. Just be careful about what you say and do, because first impressions do not come around twice.

Until next time, stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com.