Cultural gaps can spell merger disaster

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

To bring cultures together, identify differences in attitudes and work habits. Then address the differences so that everyone gains a better understanding of their colleagues’ perspectives.

Skip this step and conflicts can erupt. This occurred after Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler in 1998.

Ray Wilhelm, a Chrysler manager, attended what was billed as a brainstorming meeting about benefits policies with his new colleagues from Germany’s Daimler-Benz. Wilhelm and other Chrysler employees were used to a freewheeling culture, but the Germans preferred a methodological approach.

This became clear when the Americans realized in the meeting that their German counterparts had drafted a 50-slide ­presentation with detailed proposals. Wilhelm and his American peers had ex­­­pected to brainstorm with a blank slate.

The Germans seemed to disapprove of the Americans’ lack of pre­­paration. This re­­duced collaboration and led to a rift.

The real problem was how the two cultures viewed brainstorming. Had they shared their differing expectations in advance, they could have avoided the awkwardness that tainted the meeting.

Misunderstandings multiplied in the year after the merger, leading a third of Chrysler’s senior managers to quit.

In 2007, Daimler-Benz sold Chrysler for $6 billion, sustaining a $44 billion loss.

— Adapted from Managing Across Cultures, Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell.

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