“It’s a merger, not a takeover”

How many times have you heard this? What was it that showed you that this was absolutely, definitely, not true?

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“It’s a merger, not a takeover”

How many times has the combination of terrible symbolism and justified cynicism undermine two organisations or groups trying to come together?

I’ve been through it myself. I was part of a business unit in a big global consultancy. We were collegiate, friendly, and mostly drawn from the sector we served. For complicated reasons, another part of the business set up a team working in the same sector. One thing led to another, and we were ‘merged’.

That’s what they said, but we all knew it was a takeover. *Our* leaders disappeared from the top table. Our culture was reversed, our history was disparaged — all subtly, nobody took it on as a job to do — it was just blindingly and absolutely evident to ‘them’.

A colleague and I were asked to help with ‘change management’. We wanted to bring out these cultural dynamics, make them discussable. We proposed a series of cartoons, or caricatures: ‘they’ were red-faced, pinstriped, booted macho consultants talking about ‘time on the bench’. ‘We’ were brown-suited, brown-shoed quasi-hippies talking about ‘sector developments’. I’ll never forget pitching that to the leadership team.

To the extent they could even recognise that what we were proposing was conceivable (some of them shook their heads, as if to dislodge a fly), it was *obviously* insane.

To us, it was a takeover with the Dominant group creating cultural and organisational norms which immediately destroyed the value the Others could offer — and if we could make that an active conversation, we could build something new, and better.

To them, it was a simple business change with some restructuring and new processes. Therefore all the pain, the loss, the cultural dynamics, the possible debates about how best to run ourselves was not just undiscussable, it was inconceivable.

I left. Others stayed, and many thrived. They adapted. The biggest apes in the forest declared victory, moved on. Good leaders percolated back to the top. I wonder if they were wiser for it?

Who gets which email address? Which office becomes ‘headquarters’? Which cherished office traditions just vanish?

What patterns have you seen in mergers?

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