The Merger – Introduction

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Part of my time this year is being spent as an adviser to two organisations that are merging.  I realised that it will make an interesting example to blog about it as I'm going along with the process – and material to reflect on later in the year.

So there's a new category to the blog – Merger process – into which I'll chuck all the relevant posts as I go along.  But let's bring you up to speed first.

The story so far

About a year ago, as a result of a pending change in leadership, an organisation that I've been working with for a few years started examining options for the future.  I'm on an advisory-style board, so much of the discussion took place at that level (or more accurately within sub-groups of the board) – with little communication to the (small-ish) workforce at that point, beyond that there would be a change in leadership and more news would follow later.

After exploring some options, there was a general consensus to take a fairly innovative new approach – to merge with another similar but larger organisation and share leadership for a trial period to explore a fully-fledged merger later on.

Thus began the start of discussions and negotiations between board, leadership and select local stakeholders.  Mostly focussed on terms and conditions, fallback and monitoring plans for the trial period, and high-level organisational structure.  I suspect that in this it is much like the high-level negotiations of most mergers.

For the staff, we arranged for them to meet the new leadership and appointed from within to find a deputy leader in the old organisation.  But only did those after we concluded most other negotiations – so this was late in the day compared to when we'd started high-level conversations.  (Driven in part by everyone's high respect for the old leader and wanting to let them finish without interference by the new team.)

Day One of the new, joint organisation was yesterday, Wednesday 1st September 2010.

We brought together the new joint workforce (who will for the most part continue to operate on separate sites and, as yet, will be largely independent of each other).  They'd met briefly earlier in the Summer – an event which had started to create linkages, but had also exacerbated certain concerns.

My organisation, that had instigated the merger, is about a third of the size of the other in almost all measures – staff, budgets, etc.  There was, therefore, a sense of "being taken over" – not necessarily the case, but an easy pattern to fall into.

So yesterday, we ran eight simultaneous The Future, Backwards sessions in the new organisation.  We kept people in groups with others like them, maximising the difference between the groups, as we wanted to ensure the end results reflected as many different perspectives as possible.  So we had groups for the new Leadership team, the advisory boards for each (old) organisation, different staff groups from the old organisation (but never mixing the old organisations).

The end results of that process were much of what I'd hoped for: 

  • People seeing the driving factors and events from organisations' pasts – and hence understanding how and why others saw current events as they did
  • A shared sense of future possibilities – and pitfalls and potential disasters
  • A greater sense of a single organisation, within which there was room for diversity

What fascinated me were some of the comments I overheard later:

"You can see why they feel more concerned about all of this – we're much bigger.  We need to bear that in mind – they'll need more of the leadership time to help them through."

There was no hint of judgment or good/bad opinion in the conversations, just "clean" realisation of another viewpoint and what had driven it to that point.

After we'd viewed all the Future Backwards models, we regrouped everyone around functional roles and departments to start thinking a little about where to go next and what arose from the work thus far.  As ever, I reached a little further than was realistic – people were so tired from the earlier work that we called that to a halt early.

But not before one group had started to play to come up with a new (informal) name for the joint organisation and not before every group had started to gel in ways they hadn't managed before.

It's early in the process – and late, in some ways – but it's an encouraging start.  I'll blog more as time goes by and we get to the next stages, but it's been a powerful way to start the process of bringing two organisations together without territory fights and power posturing.

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