As members or leaders of an organization, how can we ensure that a merger with another group goes well?
Mergers happen in the business world, but also in groups that are trying to create social change. My own area of research is religious social change groups in Indonesia. In this context, we see mergers happen and see mergers fail. In 1973 four Islamic parties in Indonesia fused to form a single party named the Unity and Development Party (PPP). Instead of getting stronger by combining resources, the fusion weakened the political drive of the movement.
Why do mergers happen? For example, when facing a crisis, a political or organizational group can merge with another group to combine their power (as was the motivation for the Islamic groups in Indonesia). By doing this, they are more likely to overcome a crisis with their shared resources. However, this action brings about a challenge in managing how members feel about themselves.
This issue seems trivial, but the information below presents a different perspective.
According to a KPMG study, 83% of merger deals within organisational contexts do not advance shareholders’ returns. Other studies concluded that mergers have a failure rate of 50 to 85 percent. Managing post-merger situations to get the ideal outcomes are often focused on environmental factors, values, and attitudes. What is often overlooked is the role of leaders. For instance, many leaders of mergers and acquisitions assume the work climate will continue to develop as it had until the point of merger, but it most often does not. Another important reason mergers commonly fail is that the identity changes that need to occur in group members are overlooked.
Below are a few approaches that we can use in supporting identity integration in merged organisations:
1. Building trust by giving trust
Post-merger situations lead us to interact with people outside our normal organizational circles, and often, mutual trust has not been built. The tricky part of this situation is that trust is needed to form a group identity. So how can we identify with others, if we do not trust them?
The growth of trust in an organisational setting is a gradual process that requires social interactions. If the goal is to build trust and make it a norm in our environment, the simplest way of doing this is by giving trust. Offering trust is a reciprocal action.
2. Boosting a sense of belonging through articulating similarities
To put it simply, belonging happens when you feel accepted as a member of a group. Post-merger situations can often be difficult because they require creating a sense of belonging to a newly merged group. A way of building a sense of belonging in such a group is to highlight the similarities between members of the newly merged group. It can be useful to focus on their shared goals and values, rather than on the differences and difficulties. When situations arise such that highlighting similarity may feel forced, a sense of belonging can come from using our own strengths to help others, and ask for help in return.
At this point, we also need to consider the different status concerns between the two groups merged. Research has found that the members of groups with lower status in a merger generally reported lower adjustment (e.g., less confidence in collaborating with new teammates, etc.) and a greater threat from the merger process. The solution offered for this issue is developing a new group identity that is complex, inclusive, and keeps positive images from both pre-merged groups. Members of the high-status group need to communicate that they care about and value the lower status group and its members.
3. Reframing ‘us vs them’
When two different groups merge, the possibility of a ‘Us vs Them’ mentality may arise. This sort of mentality can be a serious obstacle in post-merger situations. Leaders can take an active role in shaping the group’s new identity: creating and embedding ‘a sense of us’ within the merged groups. Cy Wakeman, the author of ‘Reality Based Leadership’, highlights an employee-based approach to overcome the ‘Us vs Them’ within a multi-group workplace situation. The approach is summarized into four steps: taking responsibility for what we can control, inviting people to take on their own responsibility, helping others to redirect their energy more productively, and actively participating in the efforts to generate a sense of ‘we-ness’.
Overall, merging groups together is a complex task – it brings with it advantages but also brings new challenges. Understanding how people create and manage their social identity will help in a post-merger context that requires identity change. Building interpersonal and intergroup trust, focusing on similarities and creating a new frame of we-ness might be effective approaches in leading a group fusion process.
Footage of 12 boys trapped in a cave system in Thailand has inundated our screens in recent days.
An international rescue effort is under way, which includes a team of specialists sent by the Australian government to assist with the safe recovery of the young soccer team. Highlighting the gravity of the situation, a former Thai Navy diver has died after running out of oxygen during rescue efforts.
This is without doubt a frightening situation for the boys and their families. It’s no surprise the situation has received global media attention. Though it does raise some interesting questions about how we extend empathy and concern to people we don’t know.
Why does this tragedy capture the world’s attention, when more long-term issues such as children in detention don’t to the same extent? Research from moral psychology can help us to understand this.
A Picture is worth a thousand words
A key reason is simply that we can see the Thai soccer team. We’re watching the rescue effort play out, and we can see the emotions of the boys and their families.
We have seen this kind of viral, blanket coverage of tragic incidents recently. For example, the horrific scenes of children fighting for their lives after the 2017 chemical weapon attacks in Syria. Or the striking image that emerged in June of a small Honduran girl crying as her mother is detained by officials at the US-Mexico border.
By contrast, issues that are arguably no less frightening don’t always generate the same outpouring of concern and sympathy. For example, the more than 200 children held in detention on Nauru and throughout the Australian mainland.
This isn’t to suggest the Australian government shouldn’t aid in international rescue efforts, but we should be equally concerned about the far greater number of children being held indefinitely in Australian detention.
The fact is we have very little access to images of children in detention, as media access to Manus Island and Nauru is heavily restricted. For example, journalists face substantial obstacles if they want to visit our offshore detention centres, and in 2016 the Australian government threatened health-care workers with jail time if they spoke about the conditions they encountered on Nauru and Manus.
We simply aren’t permitted to view the plight of child refugees, and we’re much less likely to experience an empathic response if we can’t see them.
The recent outcry caused by the dramatic footage aboard an Australian live export ship illustrates this perfectly. Most of us would be aware to some extent live export is a cruel practice. But it isn’t until the footage forces us to confront the realities that we create enough momentum to discuss meaningful change.
Time and perspective matters
The perspective we take also makes a huge difference. If we can easily draw comparisons between ourselves and those in need we’re more likely to extend concern and empathy.
Given Australia’s geography and climate, it’s not too difficult for us to imagine our children caught up in a natural disaster. It’s much more difficult for us to imagine our children fleeing their homeland and seeking asylum in a foreign country.
And it’s far easier to extend sympathy to a situation that, one way or another, will reach an end.
Ongoing humanitarian issues such as asylum seekers or food shortages on the African continent feel like immense challenges often placed in the too hard basket. Therefore, these issues fade away in the face of what we consider more pressing matters with more straightforward resolutions.
Language is crucial
The labels we attach are also crucial in determining our response.
For example, in 2016, former prime minister, Tony Abbott referred to asylum seekers as an invading force.
This sort of language is incredibly damaging, because when trying to make sense of a moral injustice we immediately look to identify both a victim and a villain. Suffering without a villain doesn’t always make sense to us – though the villains we choose are often subjective.
There is some fascinating research demonstrating this. For example, throughout the US, belief in God is highest in states where citizens experience the greatest amount of suffering – infant mortality, cancer deaths, natural disasters. This relationship holds after controlling for a range of alternative explanations, such as income and education. God is perceived to be the “villain” responsible for all this senseless suffering.
It’s impossible to label those suffering at the hands of a chemical attack as anything but victims. However, if we perceive asylum seekers as wrongdoers trying to steal some sort of unfair advantage, we’re far less likely to think of them as victims requiring our compassion, meaning it’s far easier to cast them out of our moral circle.
Do we have a moral responsibility to think differently?
Of course we should have sympathy for the soccer team trapped in the cave. But no matter the outcome, the story will disappear from our screens as the next pressing crisis arises.
We should ensure the reality of longer-term problems doesn’t also disappear, having fallen victim to the failings of our moral cognition.
- Dan Crimston, Postdoctoral Researcher in Morality and Social Psychology, The University of Queensland.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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