Q: My company just finalized a big merger with an organization that is culturally very different from ours. My team now includes several people from the other company. They’re very informal, boisterous, and kind of cliquey. Our company has always been formal and conservative. How do we merge cultures? What can I do to stop feeling so out of place at work?
A: The merger—or “marriage”—of two organizations that are culturally different is a norm in business, and the challenges are known to Human Resources. It’s not just benefit and financial systems that need merging. Culture matters, as you are seeing. When a conservative company acquires a more casual start-up with different workplace behaviors, there can be some bumps in the road. But it’s important to remember that both organizations’ cultures helped lead to their success, so the new merged organization will want to adapt accordingly to make sure all parties feel welcome, supported, and a valued part of the “new and improved” team.
Some companies will engage in symbolic acts to help their employees merge cultures during an acquisition. The new organization might get rid of something that was overtly part of one company’s culture over the other. A more laidback organization might decide to move their on-site “Thirsty Thursday” cocktail hours to a local bar, while a formal company could introduce casual Fridays that were really important to the start-up they acquired. Doing cultural due diligence and preparing a careful integration to keep the best of the two cultures creates real potential for success, and the lack of attention to these areas can cause great people to leave the new company.
Your own negative perception of the other company is also likely contributing to your feeling out of place at work. Perhaps your new colleagues are being “cliquey” because they’re feeling judged and are reluctant to interact with you. Maybe they’re just as put off by your company’s more conservative culture as you are by their more demonstrative style—they may view you as too formal and not interested in forming meaningful relationships with coworkers. To break down the barriers of judgment, take the initiative to invite a few for lunch. You can do this with a trusted coworker from your original organization—there’s no pressure to do it one-on-one or in big group settings that might just devolve into cliques again. Just make sure you are coming into it with a positive intention and are aiming for true relationship building and an understanding what made their organization successful. Getting to know your new coworkers will help you feel less out of place and less judgmental.
To some extent, a merged organization’s culture is decided by senior leadership and HR policy, which is usually established by the company that was the acquirer. A memorable merger involved inquiries about casual Fridays from a very employee-centric company that had been acquired. The response? “There’s no need for casual Fridays—you get casual Saturday and Sunday here.” The message was very clear, and there was little option for negotiating the company’s culture. There can be room for flexibility though, especially if your suggestion will have a positive impact on the morale and productivity of the workforce.
While company mergers can be rocky at first, there’s no need to feel out of place and uncomfortable with your new colleagues—you’re all on the same team now. Check your own judgment, take steps to get to know your coworkers, and propose appropriate cultural changes to HR if the changes offer to strengthen the bottom line and success of the business.