When children meet for the first time they often feel slightly uncomfortable making contact with each other. When one of them is visiting someone else’s place for the first time it can seem even harder. We probably all recognise this from our own youth or as parents. If children don’t show any sign of taking the initiative to make contact with the other child, you have this nice opportunity to come up with an idea for a play. This can be something fun they can do together to break the ice.

Organisational culture can get it done

In essence this is also what happens when organisations come together due to a merger or acquisition. Even more uncomfortable when one group has to give up their home and move into the other party’s premises. People start to meet each other and have to get used to the way the other people do things – otherwise known as their organisational culture. A company’s culture is all the shared values, beliefs and behaviors that determine how people do things in an ‘around here’.

History has shown that many times mergers or acquisition failed. A likely cause of the trouble is culture clash. In a culture clash, the companies’ fundamental ways of working are so different and so easily misinterpreted that people feel frustrated and anxious, leading to disengagement and defections. Productivity flags, and no one seems to know how to fix it.

The primary reason many mergers and acquisitions do not deliver longer-term value is because they lack a strong cultural-integration plan. The problem being there is no pure logic or law to adjust and adapt to these new human interactions. It is often shrugged off a ‘fluffly stuff’. It makes intuitive sense to look at culture as an outcome—not a cause or a fix. Organisations are complex systems with many ripple effects. Reworking fundamental practices will inevitably lead to some new values and behaviors.

Play vs. work

One of these fundamental practices is an organisations way of working and a merger provides a great opportunity to become aware through someone else’s eyes, of your way of working. It gives you a chance to start changing it if you like. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, like with kids, a great way to do this collectively is by playing a game. I know that in organisations ‘play’ is sometimes contrasted with ‘work’ and characterised as a type of activity that is essentially unimportant, trivial and lacking in any serious purpose (something that children do…). However, this assumption needs to be challenged.

One of the most successful games I recommend merging organisations to play is called ‘activity-based working’ (ABW). It’s a great game to bring together different groups of people. A game played with a minimal set of rules or guidelines that are partially defined by the participants themselves. The whole game is focused on: how do we want to work as a (new) organisation? What behaviours do we want to work around (passion, innovation – maybe even play) and what does that mean for our office setup and the IT tools that support us.

Impactful change

More than with a standard office relocation, ABW has proven to enable people from different organisations with a new context, leveraging a tangible and impactful change. It also leaves an ongoing invitation to play with whomever you need to from the ‘other’ group.

I have personally experienced introducing ABW in the circumstances of a merger. The feedback has been astonishingly positive. Senior organisational development and change management people have told us that they regard the ABW game as the most powerful enabler of transformational change.

The ABW game will lead to big success if played properly, meaning that each individual, each team, and especially each leader, knows what role they have to play in the game and how to play it. And playing a game together is the best way to get to know each other. Even if it was for the opportunity to blame the game rather than each other…

3 ABW programs Luc guided in 20th & 21st century:

Other articles of Luc Kamperman about Activity Based Working (ABW):

For more about this project please contact Luc Kamperman

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