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What can we do to make sure that a merger between two teams produces the desired results?

Two companies, two departments or two teams merge. The objective of this merger was to raise performance levels but in reality, it is the opposite that has happened.  The new combined structure performs less well than before. The two component entities had different codes of conduct, their own rituals and habits and did not always give the same meaning to the same words. As a result, relations between people who work in this new structure are riddled with misunderstandings and mutual incomprehension. The good reflexes and “clever tricks” of before are now counter-productive. Decision-making processes have slowed down, lead times have lengthened and costs have increased.

In such a situation, two types of action are generally instigated by the leaders of the new structure in order to ensure that the expected performance targets of the merger are attained.

The first action consists of taking all work processes back to the drawing board so as to define new ones that are consistent and coherent with the new structure. This option is almost a reflex since it seems to be so rational and logical. Moreover, it reassures the management because it means that the company is going to put down in writing just what these new ways of doing things are going to be. Unfortunately, however, all “contributors” and “process correspondents” who have been asked to get involved in such actions know only too well how long, exhausting and even demotivating this can be. And it gets even worse when parallel to all this, a new software application is rolled out, with the aim of “structuring” the processes.

The second course of action is well-liked by those who take a cultural approach to the issue of change management. The employees in question, who are now all colleagues in the same entity, must share a common culture. This is the preliminary condition of efficient and effective cooperation. Methods based on sharing, getting together and comparing behaviour will often be preferred. The protagonists learn to know one another and to understand one another, often through the use of offbeat simulation exercises, unusual experiences and exchanges with different personalities. Such approaches are generally speaking much enjoyed by those who take part. But the result is far from long-lasting. Just ask the participants one year later and you will often hear the following: It was good, at the time… it’s just a pity that there weren’t any tangible effects”.

The difficulties mentioned above derive from the fact that the point of convergence between people in an organization is not the simple “who does what” of a joint work process, nor the equally simple, but far too abstract, “mutual awareness” between colleagues. The real point of convergence between these people is their profession, their job.  For sales reps for example it could be the fact of having to draw up sales documents; for operators in a steel foundry, it could be the task of setting up and operating the furnaces; for an administrative assistant it could be getting to grips with the macros of a new spreadsheet. When the profession is taken as the starting point for bringing people more closely together, it is so much easier, and quicker, to coincide their ways of working.  Ask people to “talk shop”: they will immediately begin to bond, they will more rapidly come up with solutions that are more innovative, more efficient for the company and more satisfactory for customers & clients.

There are several ways of implementing this third course of action. We have personally tried and tested several, always adapted to the target results assigned to the merger. All proved to be effective, simply because, in each case, those involved had a common grasp, a meaningful purpose to work towards, in line with the direction set out by the company.


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