In a nutshell...

This client had been experiencing major relationship and communication difficulties due to a recent merger. The challenges included historical divisions, bullying and harassment issues and general dissatisfaction with management, not to mention the fact that the conflict had found its way into the press. The need was to resolve the situation and to do so quickly. We were given just one weekend in which to work with management and staff. We prepared for it for weeks, designing a 2-day residential programme for all 360 managers and staff. Over the course of the two days, we brought managers and staff through a dialectic process which was designed to secure agreement from each individual on a number of fundamental questions. Given the small window we had to work with, the results were most encouraging. Management and staff departed on the Sunday evening a much more united group. Barriers had been dissolved and all had agreed to leave the past in the past and move forward as one united organisation. Since this reconciliation there has not been a single report of unrest in the media.

Managing Change and Resolving Conflict

Resolving the conflict which resulted from a merger between two organisations that that came together as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.


A merged organisation consisting of one that had been responsible for a public amenity throughout the six counties of Northern Ireland and one that had been responsible for the same amenity in the Twenty Six counties of the Republic of Ireland. The total number of personnel in the combined organisation including management was over 360.


This newly formed organisation had gone through unprecedented levels of change. As a result, it had been experiencing some relationship and communication difficulties between personnel from the different sides i.e. Northern and Southern personnel. These difficulties came to light when receiving feedback from the different staff groups who were attending a customer care programme, also provided by ourselves. The unrest and division arose as a result of a number of issues including differing pay scales North and South, historical bullying and harassment, questions over the appointment of directors, bitterness over the transfer of head office from the South to the North, dissatisfaction with senior management, an apparent lack of common courtesy between management and staff and insufficient promotional opportunities.

The objective was to sincerely address all the issues listed in the feedback and unite the two groups behind a single vision for the one new organisation.


The sheer size of the organisation and the limited budget was the first of many challenges. In addition the organisation’s public image was suffering as a result of a number of press articles highlighting the internal conflicts. All sorts of embarrassing questions were being raised in parliament in both jurisdictions. These additional challenges called for an expedient solution and so we were asked to address the situation over just one weekend – this we agreed to do. The next challenge was to appreciate the strength of the historical divisions which lay beneath the surface. The third challenge was overcoming the myriad of obstacles inherent in trying to unite two different cultures. In addition, we as an organisation had to engage additional facilitators who were competent in our particular facilitation approach.


As is often the case with mergers, the conflict manifested itself as petty complaining, criticising and moaning about everything – the new organisation, the management, the lack of vision, and so on. This type of negative behaviour is usually the product of a ‘communications gap’. This is where people feel they being excluded, not being informed and kept in the dark. The problem is that when a ‘communications gap’ does emerge, people will fill that gap with something; in this case it was speculating, moaning and general criticism. We knew that we had to close this ‘communications gap’ in such a way that all unhelpful negativity and rumour would be starved of fuel and would cease to be the preferred topic of conversation.

What we did

We agreed to accept the challenge of addressing these difficulties over one weekend. A residential location was arranged and the 360 participants arrived on the Friday evening in the knowledge that they were going to spend two full days in conference. Our team of 12 facilitators stayed in a different location a few miles away.

The first day commenced with a meeting involving all 360 staff members. During this initial meeting the event was placed in context and staff were encouraged to participate fully in the workshops that would follow.

There were three breakout workshops facilitated throughout the day with 25/30 participants in each. Each workshop had a particular theme:

  1. Leaving the Past in the Past

  2. Moving Forward as a Single Unit

  3. Vision for the Future.

Each workshop was designed to move people away from individualism towards one organisation united behind a common vision for the amenity throughout the whole of the island of Ireland.

In addition to the group workshops, we also worked with the CEO in relation to a final address they were to make to the full gathering of management and staff. This was to be the last session before everyone departed on the Sunday evening. The central purpose of the CEO’s address was to communicate a compelling cause that would both inspire and unite people under a single vision for the organisation. We came up with the idea that the particular amenity would become synonymous with Ireland in the same way that the Pyramids are with Egypt and the Eiffel Tower is with France. The introduction of this new vision served to unite everyone and inspire a fresh perspective on the future of the organisation.


The results were very encouraging given the small window we had to work with. Management and staff departed the hotel on the Sunday evening a much more united group. Barriers had been dissolved and all had agreed to leave the past in the past and move forward as one united organisation behind a single vision. A number of weeks following the conference we contacted the organisation to enquire about how things were to be told that “All was quiet on the western front”. It appeared that since the conference the communication and relationship difficulties had largely been resolved. Today this amenity is recognised throughout all of Ireland as a significant attraction for locals and tourists alike. Since this reconciliation there has not been a single report of unrest in the media.


Executive Coaching and Development