The Merger – Baby steps

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Part of my time this year is being spent as an adviser to two organisations that are merging. It makes an interesting example of a merger process. All relevant posts on the process are collected under the Merger process category.

I set the scene for the Merger last month in this post.

Early days under the new regime

After the event bringing the two organisations together with the Future Backwards and other elements, everyone’s headed back and gotten on with the day job. As expected, the new structures and merger have had little impact on most people’s lives – with the notable exception of the leadership teams.

The leader of the merged organisation has been clocking up the mileage between the two sites, working out of both during the week. Of the site directors with responsibility for each of the two sites, their experiences, from what I can gather have been slightly different: at the larger organisation, the director was already in post, had experience of the role, and has had to stand in for the leader more than previously. While that has had a greater impact than anticipated, it’s been an issue of working more rather than working differently, I think.

For the other site director (internally appointed from within the smaller organisation that drove the merger), the story has been slightly different – it’s been about new leadership and management skills, as well as forging a positive personal relationship with the leader. All of which, by dint of the people and personalities involved, appears to have been straightforward and working well. There are office politics involved, but these are challenges from informal leaders within the organisation, not at the senior levels.

All in all, a positive start for the new leadership team.

Follow up from the Future Backwards exercise

Response to the Future Backwards we ran in September has been interesting. One particular group’s output had been categorised as “more negative” by a number of people and some of the conversation has been explicit in making sure that the people in the group are not tarred with that brush. It’s a crucial point – in these situations, it’s healthy to be able to see different perspectives on the situation – as well as what the important events are that led us here. Nor does it mean that people hold those views all the time – a group that produces a positive model will not always feel that way.

That, however, needs to be made explicit – I will be writing a note to everyone participating in the programme in part to thank them, in part to make it clear that all views were useful and valuable, in part to set out what happens next. That latter has been raised by participants as something that wasn’t clear (in part because we changed the programme on the spot and were improvising at that point) – they need to feel that what they did had value and will feed into something else.

One thing I’ve learned from that process is to make sure that, when you’ve got more than one facilitator working with lots of different groups, it’s important to get the exercise instructions the same throughout. If a group feels singled out, or that they ended up with a different result from everyone else, the first thing they’ll do is to say that they were given different instructions. (On this occasion, one group claimed they were asked to do “how are you feeling” for the Present, which is clearly what they heard. It wasn’t the instruction they were given, though – but it produced an interesting result all the same.)

The two organisations

In terms of crossover between the two organisations, there hasn’t been much yet – with a couple of exceptions. One, as noted above, is the leadership team. The other is a couple of people who, as a result of the relationship started on that day, have asked specifically for time out of the day to build bridges. These, from what I can gather, have tended to be more recent joiners to the organisation – and seem to have been instigated from the smaller organisation.

It’s also notable that one effect at the larger organisation (where I have had less contact thus far) has been a slight degree of surprise. The working assumption moving into the merger appears to have been that there would be little effect on them as a result of the merger, and that the smaller organisation would be the one that underwent change. That there is change for them is now apparent. It’s not on the same scale as for the other organisation and the reaction doesn’t appear to be difficult, but it has come as a surprise.

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