The purpose of this paper is to describe an intervention aimed at supporting the formation of a distinctive new culture in a post‐merger context. The work is informed by social constructionist thinking, complexity theory and draws on a semiotic approach to the understanding of cultures.
The case describes an experiment in the use of social networking and web‐based technology in order to enable and support a sustained, organization‐wide conversation. In particular, it describes the combined use of two virtual platforms: a global 72‐hour, virtual conference that allowed for the participation of all 60,000 employees and a virtual forum (Culture Square) that invited ongoing discussion of the desired culture.
Social networking technologies represent powerful new ways of expanding the possibilities for participation. They can also serve as useful ways of containing the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with mergers. The use of metaphorical representations of legacy cultures can create a helpful platform for generative dialogue and cultural understanding. Legitimating the shadow conversation through the Culture Square accelerated the formation of the emergent culture and powerfully complemented the virtual conference.
The use of an emergent approach to the formation of a new culture calls for high tolerance of ambiguity on the part of organizational leadership. The use of online forums calls for careful facilitation early in the process. Large‐scale virtual conferences present a host of logistical challenges and call for a high level of project management capability as well as skilful local facilitation. Social networking technology enables the formation and effective functioning of virtual teams and participative creation of the new culture at reduced cost.
Several distinctive features of this approach make it a novel approach to post‐merger integration. The paper is of specific value to organisation development and HR professionals at a technical level and to organisation leaders considering strategies for the cultural integration of mergers.
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