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Why pre-existing relationships matter?

Updated: Apr 20

Why pre-existing relationships matter in the post-acquisition phase: the case of unionists’ boundary spanning actions

The post-acquisition phase implies the revision of pre-acquisition boundaries. In this phase, inter-organisational boundaries permeate and companies eventually become integrated by combining the firms organizations, processes and activities. However, many firms struggle to achieve the desired level and speed of integration. So how to carry out this phase successfully in order to achieve the expected benefits of the acquisition? Professor Helene Loe Colman at the BI Norwegian Business School and professor Audrey Rouzies at the Toulouse School of Management investigate this question by looking at how organizational boundaries can be successfully spanned. Their longitudinal qualitative study of the acquisition of a small family owned Norwegian firm by a French multinational metals and mining company reveals the crucial role of unionists of the firms. Unionists played a key role as boundary spanners who accelerated integration and decreased disruptions from the integration process, such as employee resistance and conflict within the plants. Thereby, unionist adopted the following boundary actions:


1) initiating contact with the union representatives of the other firm in the initial phase

2) sharing knowledge about their respective firm and promoting the acquisition to their merger partner in the initial phase

3) mitigating conflicts and sharing knowledge as the integration process unfolds


The authors also point to the contingencies for these boundary spanning actions which allowed the unionists to span the boundaries, both between the merging firms and between the levels in the hierarchy of the organization. These contingencies are:


  • the unionists’ existing relationships inter-organisational pre-acquisition relationships through their union affiliation

  • the unionist’ existing constructive intra-organisational relationships, both with management and with the shop floor workers


However, the authors call for future investigations of their findings in a context of an unfriendly merger or a hostile union-management relationships acquisition. Finally, there might be other actors outside the management hierarchy who may, given the right circumstances, play boundary spanning roles.


This article has been written by Thi Nguyen (PhD candidate at Toulouse School of Management) based on the following publication:

Colman, Helen Loe and Rouzies, Audrey (2019) Postacquisition boundary spanning: A relational perspective on integration, Journal of Management, vol.45 (5), 2225-2253


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