Understanding the Three Post-Merger Mindsets, Part 2


In my previous blog, I identified three common mindsets employees bring with them as they join a new work team after being merged or acquired:

  • “The Ready.”  Employees who get the job they wanted or expected in the combined company are usually ready to enlist in the new team.  With worries about their personal fate substantially behind them, they are charged up by the challenges and opportunities of adding real value.  For example, after being acquired by an established manufacturer, employees from a firm with a strong product-development pipeline but inefficient manufacturing and limited distribution were excited by the potential of joining forces with a company possessing these competencies.  These types often are the mainstay of a new team; their positive attitudes can be infectious.  
  • “The Wanting.”  Other team members are found wanting. Perhaps they didn’t get their desired job title or responsibilities, or they’ve been separated from mentors or friends, or their budgets have been slashed.  This is how some manufacturing and distribution team members who retained jobs felt.  Preoccupied with their lower-than-expected status, they wondered if this was a harbinger of a dead-end career.  Plainly, employees with this mindset need more time to sort things out.
  • “The Wrung-Out.”  Finally, there are employees who simply feel wrung out by the combination process. Members of the sales team pretty much retained similar jobs and responsibilities in the combined organization.  Still, they were listless and weary from the ordeal they had survived.  People like this often hold onto the glass-half-empty perspective, locking in on cues that the situation around them has changed for the worse.  Misery loves company as team members complain that the combined organization adds layers between their group and the highest levels of management.  

Molding Individuals into a Team

Team leaders have three tasks in making individuals into team members following a merger or acquisition:

  1. Psychological enlistment. People need to feel a part of the team and have an emotional stake in their team’s mission.
  2. Role development. People need to clearly understand what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.
  3. Trust and confidence. People need to develop trust and confidence in their colleagues and superiors.

Psychological Enlistment: Forming the Team

Before signing up psychologically, employees who are reporting to new bosses, working with new peers, or contending with new procedures go through some self-examination.  They ask themselves, “Do I really want to be part of this team?”  Two key factors influence their decision. First is their drive toward achievement:  employees want to know the team’s purpose and how it contributes to the overall organizational scheme.  Second are facets of power motivation: employees want to know if they have to prove themselves, wonder if they’ll thrive under current leadership, and question if they have any voice in matters that affect them.

  • Re-recruit employees. Team leaders who want to enlist their members can take a lesson from college recruiters courting top athletes: give people a reason for wanting to be on this team. Recruiting begins by thoughtfully assessing people’s goals and aspirations, carefully considering what might motivate them or turn them off, and then formally signing them up.  Reminding people that their importance and value to the team are recognized addresses their need for inclusion and any insecurity they may have regarding their perceived merit.
  • Massage egos. Many employees need extra reassurance of their worth, especially when they have not gained what they hoped for in the post-merger organization or when they sense they are being tested at a point in their career where their accomplishments and capabilities should be recognized.  The team leader can do some stroking and ego massaging, create opportunities for some quick wins and small successes, and acknowledge their achievement.  It helps also to acknowledge people’s past contributions—it matters to key performers that new leaders know about their track record.
  • Lay it on the line. Over time, individuals and teams have to get on with the work at hand. Employees who continue to mope around the office, bad-mouth the combination, or perform below expected levels may need a message from the boss to shape up or ship out.

Role Development: Team Organization

After team members are in place, team leaders and members often test one another in another way:  struggling to determine relative degrees of control.  Group dynamics experts refer to this as the “storming” phase of group development.  Leaders help their teams weather this storm by clarifying people’s roles and setting ground rules.  It is here that the group’s modus operandi and pecking order are established and recognized.

  • Negotiate roles. Positions and players may be set, but post-merger job duties and responsibilities require clarification.  In role negotiation, a technique developed by consultant Roger Harrison, a team leader and subordinates discuss expectations of roles, identify areas of conflict or ambiguity, and engage in the give-and-take of negotiating a realistic role definition acceptable to both parties.
  • Establish reporting relationships. Employees regularly complain about ambiguous reporting relationships in the post-combination organization.  To counter this, team leaders should bring organizational charts to life and delineate who reports to whom and with what authority and responsibilities.  This may seem foreign to organizations accustomed to fluid structures and hesitant to put on paper the extant chain of command.  It is useful, however, to over-structure in the early stages of team building, when areas of responsibility are contested.
  • Set group ground rules. Finally, there is a need to establish both formal procedures (regarding budgetary authority, communication formats, and so on), as well as informal norms (dress, timeliness, protocol, and so forth) in a team.  Employees are more apt to understand and accept ground rules that are congruent with and support the desired cultural end state for the organization than ones that send a contradictory message.  

Trust and Confidence: Getting down to Work

Teams make their fullest contribution to the combined organization when members have trust and confidence in each other. In a chicken-and-egg predicament, team members depend on trust and confidence to operate in a fully productive mode, yet they require some evidence of productivity and reciprocity from teammates before extending that trust and confidence.

Organizations and even units within them have different philosophies and approaches to dealing with diversity.  It takes time for managers and employees to figure out the rules in each group, and more time to change them.  Team leaders can speed the development of trust and confidence in various ways:

  • Model new behaviors. Modeling desired behavior is powerful even in relatively stable times, and it is especially potent during impressionable periods in team formation.  Team leaders who do not abide by the rules of the road cannot expect their team members to do so.
  • Manage performance. Directly rewarding desired performance is the most effective technique team leaders have for clarifying and reinforcing what they expect from members.  Basic principles of effective incentive programs apply here: find out what rewards (financial and otherwise) people want, and clearly link them with desired behaviors.  Set attainable goals.  To the extent possible, recognize and reward people’s contributions to team building and to doing things the right way, not just bottom line results.
  • Manage diversity. For one plus one to equal three in a work team, differences between individuals have to be understood and mutually addressed.  Depending how it is managed by leadership, diversity in styles can bring a team to great achievements or tear it apart.  Openly discussing the variety of approaches and contributions that can be offered by team members clears the way for them to accept differing perspectives and methods.

Photo:  actioncoach.com


About the Author: Mitchell Lee Marks is a member of the faculty of the College of Business at San Francisco State University and leads the change management consulting firm JoiningForces.org. Over the past 25 years, he has been involved in over 100 mergers and acquisitions as a researcher or advisor. He is the author of six books on organizational change; most recently “Joining Forces: Making One Plus One Equal Three in Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances” with Philip H. Mirvis. Dr. Marks is a member of the Advisory Board of the M&A Leadership Council. He can be reached at [email protected]