Created by Carolin Peinecke

The Adventure of Cultural Integration

A traditional German-based company acquires an American competitor. Many business synergies are identified by very smart and experienced consultants and internal experts. A series of workshops is implemented to make these synergies concrete and involve as many people as possible at the very beginning. IT starts to align systems, workstreams define aligned processes and managers travel around the globe to present the new company to everybody. People are highly motivated and energized. After three months the mood has dropped: processes are difficult to understand, nobody knows whom to turn to in case of questions and system-wise it will take more than a year to solve all the problems. You can hear people talking of ‘us and ‘them’.

The logic behind these developments: when we start to think about an upcoming change, we try to understand what this change is about, to make all the steps concrete, to inform and explain. But a change – especially it has when a high impact on cultural differences – is complex and cannot be implemented by a complicated, predictable process. To drive a cultural change forward, you need to give all employees the chance to gain their own insights and thus become able to solve their own problems. 

So what does that mean concretely:

Be unambiguous when it comes to the new culture
From the very beginning, it needs to be clear what the new culture should look like. What are its salient features? What values and rules should it reflect?  Does one of the companies already have a definition of values and behaviour that are suitable to guide the integration process? Or is this a process of building a new culture – making use of the best of both worlds?

Build bridges and new prejudices
As long as people only hear about general attitudes, values, typical behaviour and all these Do’s and Don’ts, they understand the cultural integration at best, but they do not experience and live it. And in the end corporate culture is all about interpersonal interaction, not about a definition on a sheet of paper. So to develop a common understanding and a living culture people need to interact, understand the attitude, experiences and prejudices that are in the room and build new ones. New networks and ongoing interaction form a culture. Thus people develop an understanding of ‘I am ok, you are ok’.

Creating positive relevance for daily business
At the beginning it is interesting just to get to know the other person. But very soon attention is drawn to business challenges and interpersonal interest is replaced by a feeling of each party hindering each other as a result of work pressures. In this second part of the integration, people need to experience a concrete relevance in the working environment. They need to – individually - experience the advantage of all the different perspectives and experiences.

Keep the discussion going
Culture isn’t created within a few months but it go off in the wrong direction within weeks. That is why it is important to maintain an ongoing discussion and awareness of the way people work together. The new company needs continuous nudging and reflecting to keep on track.

Celebrate success as well as learnings
Celebrating success is always a great opportunity to keep motivation high – and is it also often forgotten in the day to day hustle and bustle. Teams need ongoing reminders of their achievements and they need to learn continuously from their experiences. Failure and negative results are the best opportunity to strengthen the debate on collaboration and to motivate people to learn from best practice as well as worst practice.


We need to encourage everybody
to experiment and continuously learn

from experience.


Our approach follows the idea of an agile working attitude.

In a complex environment we need to enable everybody to find solutions and be involved in the ongoing process. We need to motivate leaders to focus on the changes and challenges in their teams and find new ways of working. We need to encourage everybody to experiment and continuously learn from experience. Cultural change in these circumstances means to constantly set spotlights on the topics, hold leaders accountable and offer a variety of easily adaptable experiments and ideas to drive the change. Agile working in this case means that all parties are acquainted with the principles of nudging and work hacks as small changes and interventions easily to be put into practice. In this context finding the best solution at once is not the aim, but rather trying out, reflecting in short feedback loops and then taking decision on which best practice shall be continued and which other ideas shall be tried in future. This means: no extensive analysis, no long design phases but quick decisions with the calculated risk that one solution might not lead to the desired result. Implementing and testing are the more significant value drivers than long rumination for the best result.

We combine three pillars of measures to support the cultural integration:

Leadership support - Leaders have the strongest influence on the development of a working culture. They need to understand this responsibility and know their toolbox. We train leaders in how to shape and maintain a culture deliberately, offer transfer support by means of telephone coaching and peer coaching approaches and ongoing impulses as well as spots to reflect and learn from experience.

Community activation - To keep the debate going we offer small nudges or impulses that activate the whole organisation, fuel discussion and the attitude of openness and experimentation.

Corporate Communication - All activities need to be talked about and should be highlighted. That is why corporate communication sets the frame to draw attention on the actions and outcomes, share insights and learning and illustrate the management focus in this topic.


Examples of nudges the organisation

Compliments to go
Notepads with printed compliments are put on walls in coffee corners, meeting rooms and corridors. People can tear off a compliment and put it on a colleague’s desk.

Prejudice lab
People from different cultural backgrounds are invited to short workshops and asked the question:
“What do you think the others think about you?” Thus, prejudices become transparent and can be talked about.

Hot wire
Walkie-Talkies are put in the coffee corner with a note saying: “Your direct link to the boss!”
People are invited to give direct feedback to the site manager/the management team etc. by using this walkie-talkie.

Speed dating
One day a week people are invited to have lunch with colleagues they haven’t had contact with so far. Every 15 minutes partners change and get to know another person.

Virtual table
For a virtual organisation, people are invited to have breakfast or lunch in a web conference with colleagues from other sites.



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