“What does it mean for me?” That’s it. Whether you’re merging companies, making a platform investment or creating a new team through a re-organization, all anyone ever cares about first is what it means for them. Once that question is answered, individuals can focus their hearts and minds on the new team imperative. Answer that critical question – quickly, clearly, decisively. How you approach that varies across the three types of team onboarding situations.


Executive Onboarding versus Team Onboarding

To define our terms, “Executive onboarding” helps an executive moving into a new role. “Team onboarding” helps a team moving into a new situation – creating a new culture and re-defining its shared purpose.

The keys to accelerating success and reducing risk are the same for both executive onboarding and team onboarding: Get a head start. Manage the message. Build the team. Define the imperative. Jumpstart strategic, organizational and operational processes.

In executive onboarding, one person leads.

In team onboarding, the whole team must co-create the change whether this is sparked by:


  1. One company acquiring another
  2. A private equity firm making a new platform investment
  3. A transformation-driven re-organization


Mergers & Acquisitions

Generally, this involves a larger organization like Cisco acquiring a smaller company. If you’re a larger company like Vocus , committed to its corporate culture, when you acquire a smaller company like iContact, you fold their team and culture into yours.

Sometimes the situation is reversed with the acquiring team being folded into the acquired team. This is what happened with Phillip Morris’ subsidiary General Foods bought Kraft. Within six months all the senior officers of the newly combined organization had come from Kraft.

Mergers of equals are particularly tricky. Alan Brew suggests they almost never work. Citing AOL – Time Warner , Pharmacia & Upjohn, Alcatel-Lucent , and DaimlerChrysler as examples, he points out the inherent confusion across the organization when it’s not clear who is in charge. My partner at PrimeGenesis George Olcott tells the story of the two Japanese companies that merged and agreed they would alternate presidents and then did so for 30 years.

If you must conduct team onboarding with two equal teams, you must let the team members co-create their strategies and co-lead operational and organizational processes.


Private Equity Platform Investment

There are few integration decisions at play when a private equity firm makes an investment in a platform company. Reporting lines are clear and the acquired company’s management team is often left intact – for the moment – to continue leading the business. So – same leader, same team, no integration. No change. Right?

With new ownership comes a new environment, new requirements for higher performance and often business transformation, shorter time frames and different communication and decision-making dynamics.

As the new owner, balance control and empowering management. As management, balance leaning on your new partners as you lead – the rest of your team will take their cues from you. Both should invest in their new personal relationships.


Transformation-Driven Re-organization

When an enterprise re-organizes to address a significant opportunity, threat, or potentially crippling internal weakness, “What does this mean for me?” questions abound. For example, before people will embrace John Brennen’s new structure at the CIA, they need to understand their new roles, goals, reporting lines and decision-making protocols. Then they will be ready — as a team — to implement the new approach.


Now Players Can Pay Attention to the Future

Once all the above is made clear, individuals can focus on the future, and get on with the energizing work of aligning strategic, organizational and operational processes to drive business transformation, growth and value – as a team.

[Note PrimeGenesis’ John Lawler collaborated with me on this article]