Chaos after merger

A few months after a merger of two small-size companies it was obvious that the merging happened only on financial and legal level, while on people level the two units were drifting further and further apart: mistrust, blaming and boycotts grew to the point that they seriously undermined business objectives.

In a series of facilitated sessions, we started rebuilding communication between the two fractions. Using a dialogic approach and soft mediation, we established a safe container in which each party was able to hear the other party’s feelings in the situation. It soon got clear that on both sides, distress, anger, fear and frustration were growing. Slowly they started to recognise how every one in the room longed for understanding, respect and clarity. Once true understanding was reached, connection happened on human-to-human level, and ideas for better collaboration in the future started to flow abundantly: they created plans to learn more about each department’s responsibilities and challenges, get to know each other better on a personal level, establish mechanisms for a regular information exchange, compile an inventory of all the competencies present in the newly-merged organisation, and establish cross-functional teams for dealing with other key challenges in this post-merger situation.

Crisis days on the production line

Highly successful mid-size production company had been under a huge amount of pressure for months: owing to a planning mistake, they took more orders than they could normally service; one of their major suppliers kept failing to deliver; and one of the key machines broke down ...

Tension grew, conflicts between departments escalated. The normally excellent work climate deteriorated badly. Some key people were taken to hospital because of stress-related health problems.

We were called in to set up a 'listening & mediation health unit', which found place in a small meeting room. After listening to a few personal accounts it transpired that processes were unaligned because of a poor communication (caused by disrupted routine and pressing deadlines) among a group of managers. What followed was a series of facilitated conversations (production manager + maintenance manager; production manager + logistics manager + supply chain manager; managing director + HR manager + finance manager ...). Supported by a skilled facilitator & mediator who navigated interactions so that real understanding was established, the managers involved were soon able to find a common ground on which to build solutions that work for all, directly supporting the companies objectives. After one such conversation, the production manager commented: »Look, boys, it took us exactly 25 minutes to get to understand each other, and decide what to do next. We're leaving this room in a very good mood. Only 25 minutes! Until today, we were at each other's throats two full months. I must say I am ashamed.«

Dialog between nurses and doctors

Employee satisfaction surveys in a hospital revealed a lot of dissatisfaction regarding the relationship between nurses and doctors.

In facilitated sessions we attempted to establish a dialogue between the two groups. When asked how they feel about the situation, a lot of anger, frustration, dispiritedness and fatigue surfaced. Next we helped each group identify the qualities they miss in the relationships between doctors and nurses. While one party was speaking, the other party was invited to really hear what had been said – to put aside all past stories and thoughts, and for a (connecting) moment really empathise with the people from the other 'side'. It took a lot of facilitator’s support several cycles to achieve this. Then a minor shock followed: both sides realised that they all long for the same qualities – respect, collaboration, trust, mutuality, timely feedback, clear communication and honouring agreements. Their values and needs were practically the same, yet often expressed in a disconnecting ways – labelling, blaming, mocking... Having reached this stage, enough of trust, engagement and hope were created to start thinking of concrete actions that will improve collaboration along the qualities they all shared.