CIO Leadership

The Overlooked Factor When Two IT Teams Merge

I’ve been seeing a lot of mergers taking place, and with it, inheritance of another leader’s team. The work that follows between yours and theirs isn’t always smooth and often is troublesome. Unless you pay attention to one key factor effective CIOs agree has been their key.

Joe Woodruff


September 14, 2023

Photo credit:
Jingming Pan

In the Old West, the Marshall and his posse finally caught up with a famed bank robber. With guns pointed at the fugitive, the Marshall demanded that the bandit tell them where he stored all the loot or they would shoot him.

The outlaw could only understand and speak through an interpreter. So he told the interpreter where the money would be found.

The interpreter told the Marshall, “He says ‘Go ahead and shoot, I will never tell you where the money is!’”

Some things get lost in translation.

What Emerges From Merges

In a recent CIO Mastermind peer advisory group, a member explained that two companies merged, and he inherited the other’s IT department. 

The issues he is facing are not so much in the technology or processes, but with people. Specifically, the other team came from a command and control environment, whereas his are used to a more collaborative approach to work.

He submitted to the group a number of considerations he had taken into account, but his question remained: How do you merge two IT teams who work differently so that productivity is maximized and frustration is minimized?

I was surprised at the answer. Well, not really the answer itself, but at the unanimous emphasis on one key factor: Culture.

My hairs raised a bit too: Culture is one of those words thrown around that everyone thinks they understand, assume that they have addressed, and then live as if it doesn’t need much attention.

About how I treat plants in my house. I water them and then leave them alone until the leaves turn brown.

I love culture. And I despise how people treat culture.

The Work Of Culture At Work

Culture is one of the most demanding factors of any workplace.

Unless you mistranslate it. For many companies, culture is defined by activities or events or the space we work in.

None of those are going to help my friend merge two teams into one productive force. Or help you onboard new employees well.

Culture is better seen as demonstrations of values. 

Values are not aspirational. They are not beliefs. They are behaviors. Values can be measured by the time, energy, ability or money we put into it. 

We might say that we value work-life balance, but unless we can demonstrate ways we have enabled it, it’s not a value. We may believe in collaboration, but unless there are stories about it, I doubt the energy has been put to it. 

What my friend must do with the incoming team:

  1. Define the values of the current IT department.
  2. Tell stories about how those values have been demonstrated.
  3. Coach the merging team members on how they will choose to demonstrate the values in their own work. Make it beneficial to them - How do these values speak to the way you want to work?
  4. Discover what, if any, values from their previous team interaction they want to keep. If it is not in conflict with a current value for your team, encourage it. 
  5. Be intentional about affirming/celebrating when new team members demonstrate a value. You get what you celebrate.

Cultivating culture takes work. You must give it constant and consistent communication, celebration, correction and audit. 

But it is where you will find the gold.

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