ARTICLE 3: “We Are Merging Teams Following The Recent Acquisition. They’ll Have New Team Leaders – Everyone Will Get Along Just Fine”

One company buys another and suddenly everyone is expected to get along like one big happy family. On a smaller scale, it may be that merging teams through an internal restructure has taken place. Even easier, I hear you cry. They all know each other anyway. They’ll just get used to working more closely. All will be fine… you hope! Trouble is, hope never guarantees high performance when teams merge.

Have you ever been in this situation? Maybe you are having to work through a team merger now or in the near future. After all, it is the reality of many businesses and organisations. I’ve certainly been in this situation in my career and have witnessed first-hand what happens. Both positively and not so positively.

When done well, team or company mergers can be a positive experience. Consider what needs to be done to make that happen.

  • People need to know what is happening to them
  • They also need to know when that will happen
  • People also need to know what is happening to others and to whom they will report

The best outcomes tend to be when people feel they are involved and engaged. Even when there is nothing new to tell – tell them there is nothing new to tell. That makes people feel wanted and involved.

Good change management requires exceptional levels of communication.

Mergers of teams tend to go off track when communication is poor. The ‘rumour mill’ goes into overdrive and people begin to speculate. This speculation then becomes ‘truth’. Fake news, if you like. In the absence of exceptional levels of communication, the fake news takes over and people believe it. The consequences of that can be dire. Performance drops, job satisfaction declines and people may consider leaving the organisation.

One of the first tasks I had when moving to Australia from the UK was to strengthen the performance of a newly formed leadership team. This team had come together following a global merger between Quintiles and Innovex. As an aside, Innovex no longer exists as a business due to a number of other acquisitions and mergers in subsequent years, but Quintiles has just merged with another industry giant, IMS. It happens all the time.

I have also been privy to two pharmaceutical giants attempting to merge. Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham. This was by no means unique, as in the 1990s and early 2000s, many pharmaceutical companies were merging. That trend has indeed continued to this day.

More recently, I worked with a major telecommunications business in Australia. They had been formed by merging two companies and, a few years into my tenure working with them, they were acquired by another telecommunication business. What happens once these mergers have been completed is the stuff of nightmares if not handled properly.

Essentially what happens is this:

The companies come together to form a new larger company. Within that new larger business, new teams are created. This invariably involves some people losing their jobs due to duplication. That is often on its own enough to create ‘bad feeling’ between those that are left from each merged company.

I’ve seen on many occasions this bad feeling at play. You may have also been party to such bad feeling. It usually arises when processes or policies are replaced by ‘the other company’s’ process or policy. People begin to feel that they are losing control. Phrases such as ‘we never did things like that’ or ‘things aren’t as good now that we’ve merged with them.’

Worst of all is when people are replaced. One week a perfectly good member of the team is replaced by someone from the other company in the merger. That makes things even more unpleasant. The usual talking behind closed doors starts, accusations of poor communication are rife, and people begin to retreat.

Of course, many of these things can be prevented by excellent change management, communication, and a very high level of understanding how people react in these situations.

So, when the expectation is that, as if by magic, people will ‘just get along’ – there is an even greater need for people to understand each other and how to communicate.