No Man’s Land: Too Big to be Small, Too Small to be Big

Do you feel like your business is too big to be small and too small to be big? Do you feel like you’re working harder than ever before, but you just don’t know how to make things better?

If you are like so many entrepreneurs, you might start feeling bad and blaming yourself. You may be saying things like, “I’m the problem” or “I just don’t know what it takes to get the job done anymore.” You may even start blaming organizational problems on specific decisions you made or your failure to anticipate larger industry trends.

Leading a business in emerging growth mode can be a truly trying experience. But take heart, because often the troubles you’re encountering aren’t because of you. Rather, they stem from external causes relating to the specific challenges of the No Man’s Land transition.

No Man’s Land: “A transition that a company goes through when it is too big to be small and too small to be big. It’s something every company has to go through in order to grow to scale. It’s a highly fatal transition and many companies don’t make it.” – Doug Tatum

Most entrepreneurs enter No Man’s Land unintentionally. In fact, it’s much like getting lost. “No Man’s Land is dangerous because it’s like getting lost in the wilderness: The unknown terrain comes on subtly, gradually, almost imperceptibly,” says Tatum.

Similar to the ever so awkward stage of adolescence, businesses encounter difficult and potentially fatal challenges unfamiliar to you as an entrepreneur.

It is also important to note that the growth that leads a company into No Man’s Land will not lead a company out of it. To survive this phase in a company’s life cycle, entrepreneurs must step away from the day-to-day and subject their business to a rigorous objective analysis. Only by gaining a more impersonal understanding of the company’s own strengths and weaknesses can entrepreneurs take the necessary strategic steps.

How do I know if I’m in No Man’s Land, or about to enter it?

Companies typically encounter No Man’s Land years after the company has been in operation. It usually takes specific circumstances, innovations and intuition combined with a quick company growth mode that brings a company into No Man’s Land.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Difficulty fulfilling customer promises
  • Decisions become increasingly complex and beyond the capacity of existing leadership to handle
  • Your organization lacks a sense of how it makes money and what its future profitability picture will look like
  • Difficulty obtaining needed financing
  • Leadership feels stuck and stagnant
  • Reporting systems no longer provide meaningful information
  • Loss of control … in other words, your tried-and-true rules don’t work anymore:
  • Employees are having trouble keeping up, even though your vision hasn’t changed.

These are some of the common problems you’ll encounter when you’re in rapid growth. Welcome to No Man’s Land.

So what do I do next?

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut through rapid growth. However, you do have two choices for survival:

  1. Go back to the safety of the starting point. That is, continue to function as a small entity.
  2. Push forward and get ready to handle the challenges you’ll encounter.

Can I just wait this out?

Nope. A company can’t survive for very long while standing in one place. You can’t just ignore No Man’s Land and expect it will just go away. If you do, you’ll end up going backward or going under … neither of which sound like great options.

“Like any voyage of discovery, a trip through No Man’s Land is painful and transformative. To make it through, you’ve got to tackle its challenges head-on – the most quickly and efficiently, the better,” says Tatum.

Any good news?

Yes! No Man’s Land only happens once. It’s a unique transition that happens early in a company’s life cycle, as it grows out of being a small company into being a larger one. But once you’ve passed through this awkwardness, you’re done … at least with No Man’s Land.

More good news: companies that have come through to the other side of No Man’s Land are ready to grow and have the tools in place to help them do just that. A few of the tools include:

  • A brand that people have confidence in
  • A value proposition that is proven and profitable
  • A distinct culture

So how do I get through No Man’s Land?

If you have decided to press through No Man’s Land (which we hope you have), you’ll need:

  •  A map
  • A High Place from which to orient yourself
  • Navigational rules to help you determine your position on the map as you move forward.

Over the next seven blogs in this series, we’ll cover each of the above necessary tools and what these look like for your business. This will also, hopefully, give you a chance to look strategically at your organization, its processes and the challenges you’re encountering.

P.S. In case you missed the first blog in this series, you can find it here. You’re welcome.


One comment on “No Man’s Land: Too Big to be Small, Too Small to be Big

  1. […] Our next blog on No Man’s Land will focus around management and the dangers to your business of outgrowing it.Missed the first two? Check them out here and here. […]


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