Afiniti Insights

Merging Cultures – What Do We Do When Organisations Come Together?

Organisations come together for a variety of reasons including, joint venture, merger, takeover, or a project with different stakeholder groups. In all of these scenarios we have people joining forces from different starting points, methods and expectations, to work towards an aligned outcome.

Two very different cultures meeting head on

Just recently I’ve been involved in a project where one organisation has been taken over by another and we’re helping bring the cultures together.  On one side we had an organisation with a culture of early adoption and technical innovation. On the other hand we had a larger, more established organisation, who were somewhat risk adverse – preferring safe and established products – and the benefits of adopting new technologies once they are tried and tested (and a bit cheaper)!  Both of these approaches have merit, but highlight the different cultural approaches.

These are two very different cultures, two very different ways of doing things, and two very different mind-sets, so how do we start bringing them together?

There are lots of things to take into consideration at this point. There will be good and bad aspects of both organisations’ cultures – and there’s always reasons behind this which you’ll need to understand. There will most probably be established sub cultures – with their own preferences for language and communication, shared motivations and common attributes. And then there will be common themes which flow throughout the whole organisation like a thread.

There is, of course, a lot more to organisational culture than just sub cultures and common themes, take a look at our blog What is organisational culture and why does it matter for a more indepth exploration of what it constitutes. The main question here is, however, ‘what’s the best way to start bringing the two together?’ Do you find the afore mentioned common thread and use it to provide the umbrella message? Or do you look at creating a whole new culture from scratch?

Like most things in life, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle

You’ll often find different solutions depending on the specifics of the scenario at hand.  What we did with the client mentioned above was to:

1.Develop a change management plan including effective communications to:

  • help each side understand the other’s point of view and manage perceptions from both sides;
  • help both sides understand why things had to be different in the new world;
  • clearly articulate why some things could no longer be done;
  • speak to everyone – all affected sub cultures and audience groups.

2. Aim to adapt and enhance to create a new culture – to take the best bits of both but to create something new. There is no need for one party to feel steamrollered.  We started by taking both sets of organisational values, understanding what they really meant and how they could be developed to create new, joint ones.

3. Take the opportunity to physically move people. There were people in both organisations who had been waiting for the chance to make a lifestyle move. The new organisation, with its increased number of locations and business functions, was in a position to be able to facilitate these moves.  We found that the people that made the move brought along with them their contacts, knowledge and experience.  Helping them to make the move also helped the organisation to settle as it meant the cultures mixed and people started to integrate. These people were extremely valuable.

4. Consider what could be done immediately to start the process of working together and forging ahead.  We looked for something which was brand new and easy to implement in the current state – in our case it was new employee benefits and ways of working – introducing a 9 day fortnight and other similar initiatives. The end result was a joint venture between people from both sides of the organisation, a beacon for the rest of the workforce to aspire to – showing a future state of working together, effectively.

It’s going to take some time

As we mentioned in our blog How do you go about changing organisational culture? to truly augment and embed a new organisational culture you need to give it a sustained effort over a period of time.

We were keen here to ensure our client didn’t just pay lip service to the cultural integration by delivering a few weeks’ worth of half-hearted activity. We planned a sustained effort, starting with the quicker wins to create momentum, followed by longer term tactics involving multi-channel communications and we made sure leadership were obviously modelling new behaviours.

If you have any interesting experiences of merging cultures – the good, the bad and the ugly, or how you maintain commitment in the long term, to ensure your initial effort doesn’t turn into posterware, then get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards
Partner, Principal Consultant
Anthony is an accomplished Change Consultant and Business Analyst, who has worked on a variety of learning and business change projects since joining Afiniti in 2003.
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