Following the merger of two companies, the resulting organization wanted to figure out how to create cohesion and do successful team building between employees. They brought us in to assist in aligning the two cultures and visions to begin to work as a single organization. This change management work sought to create a cohesive blended culture.
But we know that trust is forged when people actually work together — not through ice breaking exercises or identifying four things in common with a random partner. That’s why we proposed tackling a real organizational challenge that would require the newly formed team to do innovation work together. This moved participants away from a “who are you” and “that’s my turf” kind of thinking. It would instead allow them to see the new possibilities resulting from the merger — and have the added benefit of collaboratively designing the future of the new organization.
How We Did It
In the course of our work together, we took the participants through a series of exercises to reframe what the company was, who they were, and challenge assumptions they had about their industry. The objective was to think of a new direction, and we shared out those ideas through storytelling.
Around 200 people working in 8-person teams sat around tables and shared ideas, throwing post-it notes up on the wall to display and explore what they had come up with. They created hundreds of future stories about how the organization would operate with a variety of different versions. Everyone participated — including leadership.
One way we explored and brainstormed new ideas was through a tool we like to use called odyssey planning. We gave participants three directions, three possible futures: we asked them to think about what the company would look like if it was a) exclusively partner-focused, b) client-focused, or c) employee-focused.
Even though the company needed to be all three, the exercise served as a means to stretch the participants to create new possibilities. Sometimes constraints, not open-endedness, are the best way to come up with new ideas.
Because of the vulnerability of all the participants, and the follow through of leadership, many people had revelatory moments in the share outs at the end. This work was the first big step for the team to see the organization as an intertwined whole, with new capabilities and opportunities. It set the stage for creating a strategy and stepping into a new future direction.
The CEO of the merged organization participated in the process as well, and thanked us at the end for “prompting our team to think about our business in some new ways.”