Case Study: How to effectively manage organizational change, transitions, and disruptions
This case is a good example of much of the disruption going on when organizational cultures collide despite the good intentions of leadership. Regardless of the conceptual and programmatic preparation involved in the process of merging organizations, they are still made up of people who have acquired work habits and preferences that may not coincide with those of their new teams and partners.
The client is a large international mining company that has been developing as a powerhouse in the vertical markets in the sector. In order to rationalize its growth and extend its expertise from mining into other sectors, it has formed a joint venture with a well-known giant in the chemical industry to pioneer downstream projects in other countries. To further build its in-house expertise, it has acquired an innovative A&E firm located near its headquarters that have a reputation for creative and well-designed engineering solutions.
The Immediate Concern
Senior leadership of the joint venture expressed concerns in three related areas: employees come from different national cultures and do not always understand the other’s behaviors; some employees speak multiple languages, others are monolingual; and they come from very different organizational backgrounds, which clearly colors their perceptions of what processes should be adopted for internal activities such as meetings, communications, reporting, performance appraisals, etc.
The joint venture is an equal partnership and so decision-making required good faith and trust among the top officials, who at times seemed to be more sensitive to managers with whom they share a common work or cultural background. However, the headquarters is located in a country outside of the US so that recruiting and retaining staff who have the cultural and technical expertise required is a challenge.
My assignment was work with the joint venture’s internal learning center to develop team-building workshops for employees from the three entities that would enable them to gain insights into the others and define common behaviors that would help them reach meet company goals. This required that the participants achieve three learning objectives.
- An appreciation and understanding of cultural differences broadly defined – national, professional, status, and gender and how they affect work relationships and communications.
- Develop insights into the goals of the new company, its operating environment, the expectations of each unit, and the implications for employee behaviors across the new company.
- Self-generated explicit personal learning goals that would enable employees to measure their progress over time.
Given a very tight timeframe, and operating overseas, it was critical to gather as much data as possible about the three companies, their employees, operating environments, expectations of the training, and what would most benefit the new company. I undertook a series of directed interviews with key personnel at several levels of the company representing the three entities merging together. Based on their feedback, I designed a half-day workshop to meet the objectives listed above.
The workshop featured a number of interactive exercises to: define personal traits related to work and group dynamics, discover cultural stereotypes held by the participants, describe values around work, identify functional and dysfunctional group behaviors, and set personal and professional learning objectives. Acting as facilitator and coach, as some participants were reluctant at first to verbalize their concerns, I drew out the lessons to be learned about cultural competence, effective communications behaviors, organizational culture and values, and how to build learning objectives into daily assignments and responsibilities.
By the end of the sixth workshop, I had identified, along with HR, individuals who would be responsible for duplicating the workshops on an ongoing basis. They were then given an advanced workshop on how to use the materials, how to process participant responses, and options for culturally appropriate feedback, coaching, conflict resolution, and other areas of group dynamics. To date, the new organization is doing well as an international company with global ambitions; there is low staff turnover; and it is integrating employees from many more cultures into its organizational culture.