My 100-person e-mail marketing company VerticalResponse was recently acquired by a much larger company, Deluxe. From day one, we wanted our teams (and they have folks all over the place) to start working together as quickly as possible. But there were a few obstacles:
1) We're based in California and our parent company is located all over North America.
2) Their people have more focused roles where we have a smaller team and each person may do a number of roles.
So how to get people to start working together, leveraging and sharing?
All the technology we've got from Skype, conference calls, shared docs on Google Drive and the like are a great start as getting people together live when you're spread out around the country isn't always possible from a time and expense perspective. But technology is only part of the equation. If you're facing some of these same challenges, here's how we've navigated our first 90 days.
Lead by Example
We started introducing folks from the first day we announced the acquisition. The CEO and SVP of our parent company flew to San Francisco to meet our team and within weeks myself and members of our leadership began making trips to hook up with their team members. We were laying the bricks so to speak, because if we weren't aligned at the top, with a common vision and set of goals for our teams, how could we expect them to be?
We also started having regular conference calls with cross functional groups between the businesses to introduce different players on each of our teams and get them working on some shared initiatives together.
Tip: If you work with different subsidiaries, or divisions, are your teams connecting? One way to do this is to goal each division to help the other grow.
We've got a bunch of folks who do social media and content marketing across our companies. We thought this group would be the perfect chance to bring people together in-person and see what would ignite. At the core, we knew we wanted these teams to not just work together, but share and leverage each other and speak a common language.
They were all invited to Minnesota to the corporate headquarters for an annual social media summit. At first there was some hesitancy and maybe even a little fear. In the years past, this same meeting had been conducted via conference call. But, since there had been a few acquisitions everyone ultimately got on board. To make sure they got off on the right foot, a document was shared with every attendee with specific instructions of what to prepare so no one would feel ill equipped.
Tip: If people from different functions or working groups are getting together for the first time, level the playing field by providing some common points of conversation. For example have everyone prepare a short bio in the form of a status update or tweet to break the ice. Also make sure you build in some time for a little fun. All work and no play doesn't create as much opportunity for people to bond over shared interests and experiences.
Leave Your Ego at the Door
Over the course of a rainy day and a half, the teams (which vary in age, experience and backgrounds) came together and connected as a group and as individuals. And, despite all the knowledge in the room, there were no egos and people were willing to listen, learn and teach one another.
By the end of the meeting a change had transpired. The teams were laughing, joking and most importantly making plans for the near future to share, leverage and work together. They were also able to collectively select a vendor we needed across all our companies, which will make us all more efficient. They made sure everyone's needs would be addressed and they all felt positive about their decision. Plus, they proactively set some lofty goals for themselves about how they'll measure future success and the conversations they started. The meeting ended with hugs, cheers and lots of opportunity to make each other better.
Tip: If you're going to the expense of bringing folks together or even get everyone on Skype, make sure that each person has a purpose and that the time is productive. There's nothing worse than feeling like you've made all that effort for nothing.
Have you had challenges with getting teams from afar to work together? Share your experiences in the comments.