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Mergers and Acquisitions: Collaboration tools hold a key to bringing cultures together

Acquisition / Integration
Internal Communication
Collaboration

23 November, 2021

Neelima Annam
Neelima Annam

Vice President, Engineering and Planning at AIM Specialty Health

Neelima Annam, Sr Director Information Technology at Outmatch, shares how something as minor as collaboration tools can be a BIG issue during mergers and acquisitions.

Problem

I have been part of about 8 mergers and acquisitions throughout my career. Being part of technology teams has offered me a front-row view into the challenges that emerge out of fear, uncertainty, and a sense of loss when businesses merge or get acquired. This is even more pronounced if the businesses on both sides have different tech stacks and different capability maturity in their Development and Delivery methodologies.

The way of working across the organization and particularly in Product and Engineering teams is heavily influenced and fostered by how they communicate and collaborate and the tools they use for this purpose.

With rapid growth over the years, our business had become an Office 365 shop and we used MS Teams with Sharepoint and Outlook as our collaboration toolkit. One of our recently acquired companies used Slack, Zoom, G-Suite as their collaboration toolkit. These tools were very ingrained into the way of working and changing to a common toolkit felt like starting a war. Given our side, we couldn’t operate with different teams using different collaboration tools across the two organizations that were coming together as one.

Actions taken

Recognizing this needed to be handled with sensitivity and care, we organized a task force of people from both sides. The aim was to be very objective about arriving at a recommendation for a consolidated collaboration suite of products that would be widely adopted by the business while accounting for ease, efficiency, and cost. Besides evaluating the benefits from an administrative ease and cost perspective, we took qualitative data like sentiment analysis into consideration due to the implications to team culture.

This turned out to be a great move because it all came down to Slack vs MS Teams. Everyone was willing to consolidate on all other tools except for Slack and Teams.. The two camps dug in and were unwilling to adopt a new tool. So we ran a survey collecting feedback from the entire organization about their tool preference, their knowledge of the tool that was not of their choice, preference for consolidation over comfort, etc.

We uncovered a pattern of two issues due to this exercise - we had an association issue on one side and an adoption issue on the other side. People using Slack did not know what Teams offered and just didn’t want to favor anything Microsoft-related (association problem). People using Teams didn’t want to switch to Slack because they didn’t want to lose the structure of their channels (adoption issue). But another fascinating pattern also emerged - more Slack users voted over MS Teams users, even though the two camps were pretty evenly split. This proved the effectiveness of community and communication via Slack. People using Slack immediately spread the word of “don’t forget to vote.”

On the other hand, the people using Teams did not really vote as much. It appeared that the loudest voices were not truly representative of the ground sentiment after all. Communication and rallying among the Teams advocates did not seem as effective as it was among the Slack advocates. Even though the cost of the Slack combo was a little heavier, the sentiment was stronger, so Slack was chosen as the go-forward collaboration tool for the business.

What might have become a big issue was thwarted by being objective and transparent about the whole process and sharing the data and analysis back with everyone. The decision also highlighted that sentiment and ease of working together carried a premium over cost savings alone.

Personally, I use Slack and Discord and Teams for various things in and out of work and was able to remain neutral about this whole exercise, but I did learn about how big of an influence this can be, on the culture and way of working in an organization. No one makes a big deal out of collaboration tools when they start a new job with a new company - they adapt to the tooling offered. However, when it comes to M&A, this seems to be a very important driver of successful business integration and culture formation for the combined organization.

Lessons learned

  • People are quick to jump to conclusions about what they don’t know, but it is your responsibility as a leader to be objective and go through careful analysis. Weigh the pros and cons of each side, and be transparent throughout the process in order to arrive at the best outcomes.
  • When growing your org/teams via M&A, make adjustments and adapt to the best way of working in the context of the situation and bring the best of both worlds together to create a new path forward. Sometimes this could mean giving up tools and processes that feel comfortable and learning better ways with different tools and processes.

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