Merging Teams Faster


Cairo trafficYou are speeding along a highway and then it merges with another highway. What happens? Traffic slows until all of the cars can become integrated using the zipper method.

Merging team cultures and business models works the same way. The speed at which a business is able to develop, sell and deliver products and services to customers slows until the two teams and business models can become aligned and integrated. This post will describe a zipper method for integrating team cultures and business models.

I was recently advising the top leader of a consulting firm, which acquired another consulting firm, roughly doubling the overall company's size. The good news was that overall sales were increasing, which showed that the merger was being embraced by customers. However, the bad news was that team members were feeling very frustrated. "Our people are working long hours and critical decisions seem to be taking forever. We might loose key talent because of burnout." one team member lamented.

What is the zipper method for merging team culture and business models, for accelerating team culture and business model integration? I have found the following sequence works well and I use it to structure my workshops. And, it is the approach I am applying with the team at the consulting firm:

  1. What one leader is the enterprise leader, who has final call on two key decisions: Who plays which role within a system-of-roles? What ways-of-thinking and acting will be rewarded (team culture and compensation)?
  2. What shared ways-of-thinking and acting or team culture will be required for this team to succeed?
  3. What business segments will be defined to ensure focus?
  4. Which leaders will be accountable for leading and growing which business segments?
  5. Which leaders will be accountable for managing which functions (or key capabilities areas) across business segments?
  6. What compelling requests do team members have for the team (i.e. resources, investments, etc.) based on strategies to win from the perspective of their roles?
  7. Which roles have final call on which key decisions?
  8. What will be this team's shared priorities?
  9. How will the team resolve conflicts and align?

Hundreds of studies have shown that most mergers and acquisitions fail because of personality conflicts and lack of shared priorities. These nine questions address both of these issues.

Team leadership / culture issues are addressed first and then shared priority issues. This is because of the law of the lid, which states that a team culture and therefore a business model can never sustain a level of performance higher than the level of the ways-of-thinking and acting of the top leader and team.

What has been your experience with mergers? Have you seen the chaos that can occur when team mergers are not managed effectively?  

Here are some relevant links:

Why do so many mergers fail?

Why most integrations fail? - short video