The acquisition has been signed! The big multinational (let’s call it Huge Inc) has finally acquired the smaller niche-market company (we’ll call it Small Inc) in order to pursue its strategic diversification. Small Inc teams are interested but not overjoyed even though it means much needed development resources. After all, many of the Small Inc senior team left a Huge Inc-type organization for a small, agile, start-up type of company.
This is the very short story of how two teams took one small step forward for themselves that is potentially one giant step for the organization.
Before synergies, bridges
Huge Corporate headquarters had not yet announced exactly how the two organizations would be merged, but the all too well-known noise about “synergies” was already in the system. Meanwhile, in one of the major countries, the Huge Inc General Manager decided to initiate a “getting to know you” process right away. With the full support of the Small Inc Country President he wanted to start building bridges between the two leadership teams. There had been more formal exchanges between the teams previously. The next step was a one and a half-day meeting for 12 management team leaders from each company.
The Huge Inc team came to the meeting with lots of enthusiasm since the acquisition consolidated their leadership in a critical strategic sector. The Small Inc team were seemingly open and willing to take the time off to meet with their Huge Inc counterparts. No one had organizational answers since these would be coming shortly from Huge Corporate HQ and so were beyond the scope for this meeting. Both company leaders positioned the meeting as an opportunity to strengthen relationships between individuals and generate excitement through greater mutual understanding of the businesses.
Getting to know you…
The first step was about individuals. Participants had been asked to bring a meaningful object and present themselves through that object. They were seated in a semi-circle, without tables, and the exercise brought out high levels of authenticity that marked everyone. People were no longer merely “functions”. They were people.Off to a good start!
After a break, the second step was about getting below the surface, moving from individual to collective, and exploring the very different corporate cultures of Huge Inc and Small Inc. I made some introductory comments about how cultural differences generally lead to misunderstandings rather than disagreements. Disagreements, one hears them and can solve them. Misunderstanding stay hidden and lead to difficulties and conflicts! It is therefore invaluable to make as much explicit up front as reasonably possible. I asked Huge Inc and Small Inc teams to split up and spend 30 minutes preparing flip charts (I love low tech!!) in answer to two questions:
– What do you need to know about us in order to work effectively with us ?
– What questions do we have for you?
I sat in on the Small Inc preparation where the atmosphere started out with a strong dose of assertiveness: “Well, Huge people have to know that we all left big multinationals like theirs to work in a small, niche company like ours” said Bernard (name changed), a critical member of the Small Inc team. More than 50% of the Small Inc team agreed to this and up it went, first point on the flip chart.
“Not so simple” were the words that came to my mind!
Thirty minutes later all the flip charts were posted in plenary. People circulated and read. After a few minutes the Huge Inc GM turned to me and said,
“OK, so what do we do with all this now”?
I restated the purpose: To share what they felt would best help them work together in an effective, satisfying way. And to take this opportunity to learn as much as possible about one another and to tell one another as much as they felt would be useful about themselves. Recognizing these differences is “respect” in action.
Thus began an open and in-depth exchange about company culture, values and style based on the flipcharts, that lasted for three hours and brought out the kinds of issues that often take a lot longer to discover-including why many members of the Small Inc team had left a Huge Inc style organization and what they so appreciated in their company! Everyone participated. Another step in the right direction!
After a splendid evening that lasted into the wee hours, everyone was up on time for a series of 100% business presentations each team had prepared to strict guide-lines:
– 5 presentations with no more than
– 5 slides,
– 5 points per slide and
– 5 minutes per presentation, to be followed by an exchange.
To be honest, some of the presentations took longer, but it didn’t matter. At this point everyone got interested in what the others could bring and how they worked. You could feel the wheels turning as they keyed into value-generation possibilities together. A perfect subject for the next meeting.
The final lunch was telling. “So, what’s the outside view on this meeting” Bernard asked me?
“Like a journey”, I said. “From a point of departure with a fair amount of hostility to a first step that you all seem to think that might lead to great things.”
“Yes” he replied. “We started out with a some antagonism. It’s definitely more like 70/30 now. I hadn’t imagined the possibilities beforehand, nor had I imagined that here were people who didn’t think they were always right about everything.”
Here were two teams who had accelerated the integration process in a significant way. You can’t ask for more than that after one meeting. But you do need to ask for at least that!