My sons play baseball. They love the game and are both playing in the same team. It is a team of young kids between 11 and 14 years old and living in Brussels gives an extra flavor to their team; it is a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. Belgian, Dutch, American, Japanese, Italian kids are playing together and trying to understand each other. Their American coach has a hard job. He speaks English, is learning the basics of French and uses Japanese fathers as interpreter for the Japanese kids. Not easy for him to make a team out of this bunch. But he succeeds, and here is how he does it.
Before each game he waits until the other team has arrived. Then he brings his players together and explains them (using words, arms and legs) to check the opponent and to spot its weak points. He explains that there is only one chance to win this game, and that is by attacking the enemy in his weak zones. He stresses the importance of sticking together as a team and to join all our forces. He even lowers his voice to raise the tension and the excitement of the kids. He is no longer talking about the techniques they practiced during training. No, he has created a very clear target: the external enemy. It is amazing to see how the kids react to it and how they start to act as one. Language barriers seem to fade away, and a sense of togetherness kicks in. They get energy and confidence out of it. They build strength as a team by having an external enemy. They belief they are better than the others!
Now here is the thing, in businesses we see the same mechanism. In post merger integration processes or large reorganizations we often see leaders use the same tactics. They try to grow, support or protect their teams by focusing their energy on an external enemy. But what if this ‘external’ enemy appears to be the acquirer, the mother company, that other division or the holding, instead of the competitor in the market place? The impact can be devastating for the company’s success.
I have witnessed a company sliding down from being a proud and highly successful market leader to being a second-rate business unit with decreasing market share and lagging sales figures, since it was acquired by a foreign competitor. The executive leadership tried to keep the ship and its crew together by openly blaming the new mother company for the deteriorating figures. ‘They do not understand our company.’ ‘They want to crack our winning business model.’ ‘They don’t see that we are better in this than they are.’ ‘They just use us to become more successful themselves.’ And guess what, in the end everybody really believed this was the reason for their decay.
Leaders that focus on the wrong ‘enemy’ might end up with the opposite effect from what they intended to create. They may experience:
- Growing lack of trust in the new owner (or in the new brother or sister company);
- Decreasing self-confidence among the team in the ability to create our future;
- Not understanding the other party’s way of working;
- A mentality of closing of from the others;
- Sticking to the old way;
- Not taking advantage of new opportunities;
- Low ability to innovate;
- No structural growth and development.
Targeting the ‘internal enemy’ may generate togetherness and unity for a short period, but on the longer run it will lead to risk aversion, distrust and lack of innovation.
Successful leaders choose a radically different way. They don’t lock themselves up or hide their failure by blaming the other party. They do the opposite. They engage the other party, try to understand the others and look for ways to join forces and to learn from each other.
They lead by example and stimulate the following behavior:
- Openness towards the other party
They stimulate their teams to get to know the other party’s way of working and to learn from each other. They expect their team to do this effort. They understand that often it means people will have to get out of their comfort zones. Therefore they coach and support their people to take this step.
- Acknowledge cultural differences
They acknowledge the differences between each other, but they see it as opportunities. They do not deny their own culture (they are even proud of it), but they do not think their culture is better than the other culture.
- Focus on complementarities, not on differences
They believe in the power of synergy as the key to innovation, improvement and long-term success. They focus their team’s energy on finding the synergies with the other party and exploiting it.
- Lead by example
They communicate consistently to the team about opportunities and possibilities they see. They do as they preach by building relationships themselves with the other party. They support and back up their team in case of conflicts, they remove obstacles for their team and they lead the way.
In this way they create high performance teams and stimulate a successful integration.
Are you involved in post merger integration? How do you support your team to grow confidence? How is your team dealing with change and cultural differences? Please share your stories below!
If you want to invite Aad to your team or organization, feel free to contact Aad here.
- Leading Cross-Cultural Teams: Do you Understand the Cultural Differences in your Team? (leadershipwatch.wordpress.com)
- Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Build Mutual Trust? (leadershipwatch.wordpress.com)
- Leading Cross-Cultural Teams: How to Create Openness? – Part 1 (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Leading Change in the 21st Century: The Power of Letting Go (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Leading Change: Breaking the Fear of Mistakes (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)