Työ elämässä

8 tips on how to successfully merge two different working cultures

What happens when a mid-sized traditional family business acquires a tech startup? How do you overcome the potential challenges that might arise when merging two very different company cultures?

Within the past decade the “hype” around startups has constantly been growing. How do startups with barely enough money to pay their salaries manage to recruit “unicorn” talent? And why do star employees want to stay in a startup that is constantly at a risk of going bankrupt? One could argue that it’s all about the culture of the company and how much employees enjoy what they do.

So what happens when a startup makes a successful exit and a mid-sized well established family business acquires the startup in the hope of gaining an innovative team and culture with it? What are the real-life challenges in merging two very different company cultures with each other? Here are my thoughts.

The culture of a startup is very much dependent on trust, commitment and the creativity of its employees. As startups are usually tight on money, teams are often quite small. Everyone knows their role and everyone’s work directly impacts the end result. Creativity and taking risks is something that no one can be afraid of, as the point of your entire company is to make it with an idea that disrupts the industry. If one idea does not work, you better try something new the next day.

What seems like the norm in one team, might seem very strange or inefficient to the other team.

In the more established family business employees are used to a certain level of safety and comfort where the urgency to constantly try something new is not at the centre of people’s minds. The well functioning product has already been developed and sales are good. There is more time to discuss potential new strategies, as you are at less of a risk of going bankrupt in the near future. New product launches need to be planned to detail, as the risk of losing brand value is bigger and the amount of stakeholders larger. This also means that decision making takes longer.

When merging two companies where the pace of working is quite different, some challenges are bound to arise. Employees in both companies are used to a very different pace of working. What seems like the norm in one team, might seem very strange or inefficient to the other team. How do we overcome the most inevitable challenges in merging the two cultures together?

  1. Get to know your new colleagues. Get rid of the “us versus them” mindset. It’s too easy to categorize, let’s be above that.
  2. Communication is key. Make sure both the new and old employees know what’s going on in the company and why things are done. Communication is everyone’s responsibility. If you can’t understand half of what the “startup hipsters” are talking about, just ask. They don’t bite. Same goes vice versa.
  3. Managers make sure everyone knows what the company’s end goal is. When a merger takes place, usually lots of change happens. Make sure all employees know what the single most important end goal for the company is. This helps everyone stay focused.
  4. Listen to each other and trust each other’s expertise. Even though some sales methods might seem old school from the startup point of view, they might work better for the existing customers. Listen to each other’s arguments, don’t make assumptions.
  5. Remember that bringing in something new, does not necessarily mean the old was bad. Even though a new startup is bought to bring in tech expertise, it does not mean that everything that was done before in your company was bad. Now all employees have a chance to learn something new from each other. Take advantage of that.
  6. Be open minded. No matter what your position in the merger is, listen to everyone’s ideas and be open minded. Contribute in creating a culture where people feel comfortable in saying even the craziest ideas out loud. Nothing ever came out of thinking only “inside of the box”.
  7. Create teams with employees from both organizations. People often get comfortable working with the people they know. When starting projects, build teams with people from both backgrounds. This helps everyone integrate better.
  8. Mix up the office seating. The best way to integrate and avoid silos is to physically remove them. Mix up the seating as much as possible, you are all in the same boat now.

Maria Meurman
Partner Network Executive