ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1998


Employees First, Customers Second

Adding Life To Learning

Knowledge Management: It's Really About People

Tricks Of The Trade From The Greatest Showman On Earth


Food For Thought
by Peter Block

Working With Alligators
by Michael Robinson


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

John Runyan answers:

My reactions to your question range from enthusiasm about your opportunity to work in a new, shared leadership model to some worry about the challenges all of you face as you try to develop this approach and work out it ‘friendly merger.’

I have watched and consulted with many organizations as they have moved into the merger, transition and growth phases that you are describing. While your nonprofit status makes you a less-than-usual candidate for a merger, I believe that you will face many of the same challenges that confront your profit-oriented business cousins.

Take the Time and Make the Effort
My first advice is for all of you to take the real time and make the full effort needed to work through the human and organizational processes required to pull off this new collaboration. Don’t underestimate what it will take to bring your two organizations together and to have your two presidents develop a truly effective co-presidency.

In particular, I believe that the boards and the two co-presidents of your new organization need to acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of the endeavor on which they are embarking. With this acknowledgement, they should then decide to invest the considerable time, effort and money needed to bring the merged organization fully to life. Specifically, they should disavow the superficial “quick and dirty” methods that have sabotaged many mergers and alliances over the past few years. As an example, they should allow and encourage the marking/celebrating/ grieving that people in organizations need to do when they are closing a chapter of their work lives, even voluntarily.

My own experience with shared leadership tells me that the two presidents need to begin with themselves by committing a significant amount of time to dialogues about their values, visions and goals for themselves and their organizations—both privately and jointly with their boards and in front of their staffs. I would suggest that occasionally they use a third-party facilitator to stimulate, probe and challenge them to maximize their own learnings and to draw out the real questions and answers when they engage with their constituencies.

I believe that this visible and audible commitment to real give-and-take and a transparent process is the foundation for exercising effective leadership when the two organizational cultures come together.

Many Person, Multi-Level, Multi-Dimensional Dialogue
At the same time the two presidents need to launch a transitional process that engages every staff member of both organizations. Don’t leave it up to the two leaders to each represent all of the goals and interests of their organizations in the merger process. Proceed on the basis that everyone has an important stake in the new organization. Convene multiple, small cross-organizational clusters with the aim of allowing their members to meet each other, share visions and goals, surface concerns and worries and generally start the processes of acquainting, orienting, acknowledging and punctuating the changes that mark the healthy ending of one era and the beginning of a new one.

I am convinced that some version of this many-person, multi-level, multidimensional dialogue process is essential for the success of any merger. This dialogue process (followed by repeated invitations and expectations for all to participate in the new organization’s team-building efforts) sends the concrete message that every member of both organizations needs to shoulder her or his share of the responsibility for making the new, bi-partisan organization a real success.

Having modeled and launched this dialogue process, the two co-presidents can turn to crafting their own agreements about how to share responsibility and power. My experience tells me that they can best do their own work and lead by example for others at all levels by taking the following steps:
1. Work from a mental map where the leaders choose specific roles and responsibilities that, as much as possible, match their interests, skills, and aspirations.
2. In these selected areas (for example, external relations, financial management, staff development, etc.) design the new structure so that both leaders have maximum freedom, authority and specific accountability to the new board in their designated areas of leadership.
3. Limit the number of areas where “they have to agree” for the organization to move ahead (for example, final priority-setting and budget approval).
4. Develop a concrete process for resolving differences in these few areas where complete agreement is required. This process could include the use of an internal advisory group, external third party mediation or board leader arbitration, for example.
5. As at the early stages of the merger process, consciously choose to make the on-going working relationship, deliberations and mutual decisions of the co-presidents as transparent and understandable as possible to the rest of the staff—both as a model and for the information that will flow from their interactions.

I want to acknowledge here the vision and courage that you and your boards are showing by adopting this new co-president model, I clearly see the potential of the combined resources of your two experienced leaders. My query to you and your colleagues is — will you join them fully in taking on the responsibilities and working through the challenges of a newly-merged organization? Or will you leave it up to them to figure out what needs to happen? Your answers and actions will have as much to say about your collective success as theirs do.

Dave Farrell Responds:

October '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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