In the new economy businesses are seeking innovative ways to partner and merge with others. Partnership can bring significant benefits. However, the partnering process is often destructive and alignment is difficult to achieve. Recently I was asked why mergers are so challenging and how partners can avoid the typical merger pitfall of squashing out one team.
In almost every industry - from rock and roll bands to internet start-ups - the inability to manage conflict is a precursor to failure. Mergers are especially difficult because of the significant changes and uncertainties that go along with the transition. By their very nature mergers amplify all of the "normal" conflicts that already exist in both camps. And, typically it is not the financial or quantifiable details that destroy a partnership, its the human dynamics.
Under every human conflict someone feels dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised, or disrespected. These emotions can reek havoc during a business merger. However, since conflict management is not quantifiable or visible it is often a forgotten commodity. Stake holders typically don't realize that they need someone else to help manage conflict - until the conflict has escalated to the point of destruction.
What can you do? Bring in a professional mediator to assist with the transition. In order to avoid a crisis, it is critical that conversations are held early on, during the window of merger hope and enthusiasm, as well as along the way, when obstacles start to appear. This strategy will bring to light and immediately address any perceptions that one person or one team is being devalued - before the destructive emotions are acted out or acted upon. Clearly, in the case of a merger the best person for facilitating these conversations is a third party neutral with no prior loyalties to either side.