Merge organizations and cultures with constellations.

Merging two organizations is an intensive process. Two (social) systems are put together – each with its own history, geographical origins, employees, and culture. A decision to merge is often embedded in operational and economic considerations. All the other things will need to be taken care of, somehow, later. Indeed, we do take care of the rest, sometime. However, the leadership frequently thinks that when the merger looks good in excel, the job is done. After all, schedules are tight. No time to waste!

people hand in handPeople’s intentions in mergers and acquisitions are generally kind-hearted and sincere. It provides a new chance to find a new (optimal) place for yourself in the organization. People want to actually work together with their new colleagues. What is on people’s minds is not if the merger happens, rather, how you can make the best of it all. For some reason, however, two-thirds of mergers and acquisitions fail. What do we see?

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Can we leave what lies in the past in the past? Can we work with “what is now most needed for all of us”?

Though the restructuring of operations can be done (fairly) quickly, differences amongst the people and cultures are often still noticeable years later. How many of us do not instantly recognize our colleague and what previous organization that person must come from? The old habits have not changed until today. Besides, the language that we speak still reveals our ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thinking. Generally speaking, it takes years before our people and processes – organizationally merged- also seamlessly function together. For example, a smaller business location may feel itself ‘taken over’. How do you deal with such a nagging feeling of inequality? Whereas the organizations are merged on paper and by name, when we peek beyond the front door, we may experience another reality, aren’t we? What to do about this?


You can compare organiational mergers with two ‘families’ that join together (no mind the reasons). Or think of it as a single-mom who meets a single man. A fusion family with stepfather is formed. Sometimes they live in two houses, fairly quickly often under one roof. Each family member then needs to find their new position again. The stepfather will never become the ‘real parent’, the other person’s children will never be the ‘real’ children of the stepparent. Every year, tens of thousands of these kind of families are formed, though after two years two-thirds are separated. People do not separate because of a lack of love, rather, becaus it does not work (and function) as we hoped it would do.


A fusion constellation can help when there is a problem and you want to look at it, as part of a (e.g. client) research project, when making strategic decisions and choices, or if you want to test different (business/strategic) scenarios.

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A systemic constellation is a spatial representation of a social system wherein people represent parts of that system. A system is a set of interrelations, i.e. amongst people, concepts, or physical ‘things’. For example, you can represent the employees, clients, buildings, or values like collaboration, professionalism, and see how these interconnect with each other. When placing the different elements in the room, underlying dynamics become quickly visible. As an observer, participant, or case owner, you become aware, gain insights, or you may find your attitudes and perspectives fundamentally changed. Working with systemic constellations is an experiential method to make the unconcious experience of social dynamics explicit. Together with the client, the facilitator explores interventions to re-balance the social system, towards an end state that is more  beneficial for all (primary, secondary, and contextual) stakeholders.


blockbusters systemic modeling systemic constellations business constellations organizational constellations bedrijfsopstellingen fusieopstellingen case study researchTwo healthcare organizations were merged into all detail you could think of. It needed to happen quickly. After all, large cost-cuts needed to be realized soon. All was revised: the managing board, the supervisory board, the personnel, the different locations, a new name, the logo, and the corporate identity. With the speed of the merger, ilness ratios however reached record levels and work as well as client satisfaction plummeted. What was going on? Can we find out before our investments to scale strategically are in vain?

In a systemic constellation, the three most important stakeholders were placed in the room: the board of directors, the employees, and the clients. The managing board was staring out the window. Employees were looking in the direction of the clients, yet they looked through them and as if there is something far away. The clients waited and looked at the employees.

The clients said: ‘We are not being seen.’; the employees at their turn said: ‘We are not seen.’ By whom? The board of directors was especially busy watching the traffic outside. And so the facilitator asked the stand-in for the board of directors to turn around and look into the direction of the employees. Can we make a connection? What would happen? Upon turning, the board of directors were surprised. ‘Who are they?’  they asked. The facilitator then let the board say to the employees: ‘We are your board, you are our employees. Thank you for all the work you do. Without you we cannot serve our clients.’

This quick intervention made employees relax. It even touched them you could tell. It was as if they said to all in the room ‘finally, recognition after all!’ With this feeling of being seen, the employees could now turn to the clients, and tell them: ‘We are the employees of this organization and we take care of you. You are our responsability, as we are the responsability of our board of directors.’ Now the clients relaxed as well. They also felt seen. The whole (social) system felt relieved. The energy that was needed for the successful implementation of merging the two organizations was finally there – flow was back.

This article is derived from Boudewijn Lemstra’s Dutch book ‘Eerste Hulp bij Organisatievraagstukken’ and may not be republished without explicit and written consent. Oscar Westra van Holthe is the primary editor of this blogpost series.