When projects are consolidated, teams have to be merged. This is can lead to an explosion of improvements and new ideas but if done wrong, it can plunge your productivity and drive away your best employees. Here are ten practical steps a manager can take to merge teams successfully within an organisation.
Company mergers are rare enough that most corporate leaders never have to deal with the prospect of integrating cultures at an organisational level in their management careers. However, internal structural changes within a company are much more likely to force you to face the challenge of mixing previously distinct teams within a company. Maybe marketing and sales have be merged, or perhaps engineering teams from two different disciplines now have to work under one division.
Yes, these internal mergers definitely present fewer numbers to deal with than organisational mergers but the challenges are not necessarily fewer too. Individual teams, even when they regularly work very closely with others, often quickly develop their own subculture. This can range from how they generate ideas, how fast they execute their projects to how they interact with one another throughout the working day.
These small distinctions often play a big role in what individuals find most engaging about their work, and they might be understandably resistant if they are suddenly expected to work under very different conditions.
These cultural distinctions can be as small as how much team members joke around with each other when at work. People are always likely to push back against change, and this is particularly true where it is perceived to be bringing a negative effect on how they go about doing their work.
As the person in charge of making this transition as smooth and effective as possible, a manager needs to make deliberate efforts to integrate the cultures without destroying engagement or productivity.
This means treading a careful line between different ways of doing things – identifying what sets them apart from each other, considering their relative pros and cons, then figuring out how both can contribute to the future of the company. Here are 10 practical steps to take to merge teams successfully.
Much prior to making any announcement, make sure to pinpoint which staff members will have their routine, work processes and position most affected by the planned merger and how exactly they will be impacted on a day-to-day basis. From there, you can figure out which communications and arrangements you need to merge your teams, and this is the key to smoothly effecting your desired changes.
Choose the cultural agenda
What result in your company culture are you looking achieve from merging these teams? How does this relate to the unique subculture that each team brings?
The new desired company culture may be more inspired by one subculture than the other or may be an equal blend of both. The bottom line that you need to define it. Choose and declare what you want to bring forward and what to leave behind.
Listen to your people
You can interview the teams, or try using an employee survey tool. Keep in mind that your teams are made up of competent, hardworking individuals who are understandably and naturally nervous about their future in the organisation. Simply talking to them will not only ease their natural fears as human beings but also present you very valuable data on how to effect your desired merger.
What worked well about their former team? What didn’t work so well? How would they make it work? What are they looking forward to about the merger? What are they dreading about the merger? Such questions will help you find the pain points, diagnose the similarities and differences and figure out how to use the strengths of both teams.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
You need to make sure to communicate often and frequently with all the employees that will be affected by the merger.
People become uncertain in the face of change. Frequent, targeted communication builds confidence, ensures people are on track as they move forward together and is one of the easiest ways to merge teams successfully.
Observe their working spaces
Take a look at the physical spaces that both teams are currently working in and the way they interact in those spaces in order to identify overlaps or obvious contradictions that can help you design a better merger.
For example, suddenly dropping a bunch of suit-and-tie salespeople into an office with tee-and-jeans marketing people may look great on paper but is very likely to flop when applied in real life.
Take their identity into consideration
Over the course of time, existing teams develop strong identities that they are reluctant to shed. In fact, losing one’s identity is sometimes more scary than losing one’s job – something from our evolutionary past when being kicked out of the tribe (losing your social identity) was the worst possible fate.
Talk in depth with your teams about how they see their role in the company, this will provide you vital clues on how to execute the merger without affecting the morale of the employees by unintentionally erasing their team identities and making them feel invisible and/or insignificant in your organisation.
Make the layoffs as painless as possible
Internal mergers often come with layoffs too, sometimes huge.
Reduce the fear in the atmosphere by maintaining clear communication with the entire team through the process and treating each employee as a valued member of the work force—whether or not they will be continuing on with your company.
Build a prototype first
Do not get attached to your first ideas of how to “make it work.” At the end of the day you are dealing with people, and they are complex beings. A prototype allows you to collect more data on one of your assumptions. It’s a way to make the merger “real” on a small scale before it actually happens. the employee’s reactions to your prototype are your data on how to merge teams successfully.
Select a few members from each team and assign the mixed group to do a simple joint project for even if it’s for just an hour. After the experiment, ask them about how they got along and what synergies they managed to build. This can help you figure out how merge the teams successfully on a larger scale.
Measure progress along the way
Once you have identified the key measures of cultural and operational success, measure the progress.
Use frequent one-one-one meetings, say monthly, to keep the top issues and opportunities top of mind. Keeping track of your progress is one of the most important ways to merge teams successfully.
Celebrate successes together
Make it a point to highlight the successes related to outcomes. Declare how the team worked together to accomplish the successes – both operationally and culturally.
Help your team to see the improvements they are making as you move forward together. Letting your employees know about their wins will help them stay focused on making the merger work better.
A team’s culture, while aligned with the larger organisational culture, can often look very different across the organisation, and subcultures may emerge.
In the midst of internal organisational change and restructuring, these subcultures may collide, and the fallout can be disastrous. Make sure to pay enough attention to issues related to blending team cultures and take these steps to merge teams successfully.