note taking during a post merger team building exercise

Team building during a merger is a must. During the course of your usual work year you might argue the tangible benefits of team building. But if you’re involved with a merger or acquisition you need to make time for group work to address the concerns that change brings.

One of the concerns with any merger is attrition. Some employees will leave on their own and you may let some go but you won’t want to lose too many of the talented and experienced people you gain when you come together with another organization. No matter how much lip service you pay to reassuring your workforce that everything’s gonna be alright, there will be uncertainty and fear.

You must provide team building during a merger to reassure people; to reinforce the best of your old culture and to unveil your commitment to a positive and unified new culture.

Why Attention To Culture Is So Important

Corporate culture provides the foundation for engagement or the lack thereof. Engagement is a vital part of retention and job satisfaction. So during a merger or acquisition, it’s vital that you capture the belief from your employees early on that your reconfigured organization will be a place where they can continue to have value and thrive. You want people to stay engaged; to feel like they’re still an important part of your company’s mission and success.

Use a good team building program to show that you care about the concerns your team will most certainly have during this time of change. Here are some areas you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Identify culture – When you’re team building during a merger you want to think about story and conversation. Programs that include some type of story telling will allow participants to better understand your past, present and future – in other words, your culture then and now.
  • Invite people in – You need to invite people in through conversations about the change taking place. You need to allow people to voice their personal insecurities and to better understand the future. I led a conference energizer program for a large regional airline that had just completed a series of mergers. The older managers were having a really difficult time adjusting to their new colleges and they were fearful that they wouldn’t keep their jobs. We mixed and matched old guard and new guard in a fun and inclusive session where new relationships were formed. Through story and songwriting, the older people were able to share ‘wisdom’ and the newer people were able to share their ‘vision’ about the benefits of combining establishment with innovation. The culmination of the session was a product, (in this case a song), that celebrated the powerful potential of the merger.
  • Create synergy – With the program above, we created synergy and reduced resistance. We provided a catalyst that broke through barriers and initiated a better understanding of the benefits of the merger.
  • Prove you care – When you provide time and resources for team building during a time of change, you show your workforce that you do indeed care about what they’re going through. Provide a structured, safe and fun way for people to verbalize concerns, to ask questions and to better engage with their new culture. This is a powerful way to reduce the uncertainty that accompanies every merger or acquisition.

Let The Whispers Come Out

Don’t make the mistake of glossing over the impact of change. Let the whispers come out:

“I still have concerns – but at least I feel like I was heard and that I’ll be listened to”

  • Listening sessions – Provide opportunity for departments or teams to gather with their respective leaders and ask questions. Be prepared to present the benefits and reasons for your merger but don’t try to sell it. Just tell it as honestly as you’re allowed to. Don’t feel you have to answer questions on the spot. Listening sessions can be good starting points. Follow through is vital. Have follow up sessions in which you respond to previous questions.
  • Mission and values – Even if you believe your mission or values are staying the same, it will certainly be new for some of your merged employees. Make sure your leadership can talk about your mission and value statements using authentic language. Talking from the heart and not from a script is vital. Thus leadership needs to fully understand your culture and talking points so they can transfer that understanding to their own teams. You’d be surprised how many organizations gloss over this important step. Do not simply publish mission and value statements without providing supporting work around them.

3 Ideas For Team Building During A Merger

Let’s explore some facilitated programs you can use to optimize for a successful transition. All of the programs below are genuinely fun and highly interactive. They all provide authentic experience because everyone has opportunity to participate and co-create the outcomes.

  1. an example of visual storytellingStory – My friend and best selling business author, David Hutchens, is a master at leading story sessions. Your team will work to identify the narrative that defines your organization. When people start telling stories they share authentic experience that brings everyone closer. Participants will come away with a better understanding of what your organization stands for and where you’re going. As you can see, visual story telling can be part of the process.
  2. Build – A program using Lego® bricks to build models of your present and future hits all the buttons you need to push. Everyone works individually with their own bricks at first. Then working in small groups, participants share the best pieces (ideas) of each person’s model to create an ideal model of what you’re all visioning. Through this activity you’ll share conversation and concern about where everyone is and where they’d like to go.
  3. Song – In the section above about culture, I mentioned leading a song program for a recently merged regional airlines. Music inspired team building programs are a great fit for companies going through transitions. Music often brings disparate groups of people together and it can do the same for your newly combined workforce. Think of how you bond with strangers at a concert. You don’t seem so strange because your shared appreciation for the same music has brought you together. Music can help bring your seemingly disparate new team together. You’ll share concerns and build, or re-build, your vision or mission through songwriting.

When you embark on a merger the change you initiate brings challenge and doubt along with opportunity. Make sure to acknowledge the change. Provide opportunity for questions. Make time for answers.

Provide ongoing support for the blending of cultures and the learning that needs to take place within your organization. Make the commitment for your merger to be a success and not a mess.

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.