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Marcia Ruben PH.D., PCC, CMC 

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Avoiding Tangles during Merger Integration

  
  
  
  
  
  

I have consulted to a number of companies struggling with merger integrations. Merger integration processes are ripe with opportunities for tangles. I have coined the term organizational tanglesSM to cover a broad spectrum of human dynamics challenges that block productivity and results.  Based on my years of experience as a consultant to leaders, as well as my research, I have created a taxonomy of tangles. A tangle is characterized by strong egos, protected turf, and a propensity to blame others. A common hallmark of tangles is "us vs. them" thinking and behavior.

Us versus them thinking is particularly prevalent in the early stages of a merger integration process. If leaders do not proactively deal with it, hopes for returns on investment may derail. Often, the cultural differences that lead to us vs. them thinking show up in small ways that affect employee and management work life.

For instance, one client organization had functioned as one stand-alone unit prior to the merger. The merger added colleagues from different U.S. geographies who had different work styles and a different culture. The east coast employees perceived their west coast colleagues as "shooting from the hip." The west coast corporate culture encouraged employees to speak freely without censorship. On the other hand, the west coast employees viewed their east coast colleagues as "slow and abrupt." The east coast culture socialized individuals to be meticulous about their work and yet not mince words. Both ways worked within their own geographies. However, putting the two together resulted in the makings of what I call a "That's not How We Do it Here Tangle." It can lead to other more serious tangles, and ultimately a strangling tangle.

In this particular example, management recognized that perceptions like these were creating separation, not collaboration. I facilitated a process that helped each group make explicit their desired values and behaviors, and also how the way they were viewing each other was counter-productive. Initiating and facilitating open dialogue led to shared understandings, and ultimately better working relationships. A Strangling Tangle was averted.

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