9 mins

We’ve been acquired by a large non-tech corporation. As a once-small company, it’s been difficult for me to understand how to interface with new management, and it’s been especially challenging to keep my team updated. Can you help?

Hi Maria,

I’m the head of engineering at an organization that used to be about 30-strong. We’ve been acquired by a non-tech company (let’s call them AcmeCorp), and moving away from product led to a more corporate, top-down approach. Senior stakeholders have a minimal understanding of engineering practices and balancing tech debt. They are quick to attribute development challenges to the technical competence of the team, when the core issues stem from previous executive’s excessive and not really thought-through product complexity.

At the same time, my team is struggling to stay motivated. We’ve had lots of redundancies, changes in direction, and, in general, a lot of change. People either hold on to the way things were or look for things to settle in the future. I’m trying my best to add clarity, but it’s hard as the acquiring company is not very transparent. Sometimes, I have to operate on best guesses because the information isn’t available. With the team being so large, supporting people with their individual goals and coordinating the team’s work is a challenge.

How do I influence the wider company approach and demonstrate value in myself and my team, as well as motivate engineers who are seen as more of a cost center now?



Change is hard, and it sounds like you’ve got multiple levels of it to navigate – a very common pattern in acquisitions! I noticed a few challenges in your question: managing information flow to and from your team, shaping the culture in your team and the org, building trust on behalf of your team, and creating efficiency in how your team works.

There’s no one action you can take to drive things forward. In cases like this, it helps to break down the problem into its parts, reconnect with your principles, and come up with an action plan at each level. Here’s a proposal for how to break it down in this case:

Influencing the culture and strategy of the new organization

Influence can be a tricky tightrope to walk. Done properly, it will help you navigate the contrasting beliefs held by yourself and your stakeholders on the company’s engineering practices. You’ll have to lean heavily on your skillset of managing up. You might notice a motivation to convince and to prove your point, but don’t start there.

Start by listening: ask – almost interview – your senior stakeholders. Listen carefully, and get to really understand: until now, what has this business looked like? What has worked well for them, and what are their problem areas? What are their goals for the company over the next year? Use knowledge gained to inform your processes and the work your team does. Learn about the way they would lead the company toward their vision and how they think about risk. This should give you an idea of the risk ahead as well. If there is something keeping them up at night, try to find ways your team could be adding value in that area. All the while, consider how they think about innovation vs. execution. How much resistance and what arguments can you expect to hear when you propose a change or a new workstream? Log this for a later date when it comes down to framing proposals.  

Follow up with giving: once you have collated all the necessary information, start a conversation with your stakeholders tackling your understanding of the company’s larger pain points and the biggest untapped opportunities. Offer proposals on how your team can help, sharing practices that worked well in your company before acquisition. Include your previous company’s product-driven approach and results or how you traditionally managed tech debt and why.  

Take this moment to reflect on the complexity of previous executives’ product additions, not with a goal of scapegoating, but of building a more complete picture of the company’s history. Make an effort to decouple why things were done in a certain way from how they were done. Focus on the impact – backing any perceptions or opinions with data – and speak to tradeoffs, not only to benefits. 

This combination of decoupling why from how and speaking to tradeoffs is an important tactic to bridge some of the culture gaps you’re noticing in, for example, the new focus on engineering quality, or the acquiring company’s top-down approach where it was once product-led. This process gets you to connect on the why (business success, employee happiness, and retention) and establishes you as someone who can think critically.

When speaking with your new bosses, try to approach it as such: “We have traditionally found that product-led engineering work improved both business results and employee happiness. This was reflected in pulse surveys, where people made a point of how much more connected they felt with the problems they were solving. There was a solid theme in customer feedback on how we almost anticipated their needs, which also translated in subscription renewals.”.

Finally, keep nurturing that rapport: informed by those initial conversations, create a cadence of recurring communication (this could be a meeting, but doesn’t have to be) with content that’s informative, valuable, and makes their job easier.

Evolving the team culture

Getting acquired means that there will be all kinds of turbulence at a team level – questions circling whether to continue on the same projects, if your goals are still relevant, or if you have to abandon your rituals or practices. This will be coupled, for some, with a kind of grief for the way things were.

You have a dual goal here: offer a sense of agency while gently guiding an evolution. Steer clear of the good-willed traps where you spread the narrative of “it will all be ok!” or “nothing needs to change!” The reality is that you don’t know either of those statements to be true and that some things will most likely change.

To create a sense of agency, lean on your sense-making skills. Be transparent about your thought processes, and provide context behind decisions that you make – stopping or starting work, forming or disbanding teams – and any meaningful information from the rest of the company, when available. 

Sometimes, you’ll have to share what you don’t know and how you’re figuring out next steps in the absence of data. In these instances, lean on your knowledge of emerging longer-term goals and the internal or external challenges you’re working on. As soon as people understand their surroundings, their landscape, and what is expected of them, they will start moving forward, reverse-engineering goals, and bringing you ideas for next steps. And that creates stability, not attempting to keep everything the same.

To gently guide an evolution, split the why (value) from the how (practice) in conversations. Here’s an example phrase: “We still value collaboration very highly. This might not look like pairing as frequently anymore as we now work across two timezones, but let’s make sure we use well-crafted Github issues to stay in touch in an asynchronous way”. Or: “I'm confident we can bridge the AcmeCorp’s top-down and our bottom-up approaches rather than sacrificing one for the other, especially given that AcmeCorp has seen tremendous success with their method. I think we’ll also learn a lot from them on integrating work from different departments, which I know we struggled with in the past.”

Lean on your manager, other leaders, and your team as a whole. Invite input and ask for help. Building culture is a tough job, and no one can do it single-handedly. This isn’t due to lack of skill, but because it takes everyone’s participation. Talk openly about the team's challenges and opportunities (for example, coordination), obtain feedback on those views, and seek help implementing them. One helpful tool for this is recurring retrospectives, either as a larger group or in subgroups. 

With such a large team, the key theme will be systems instead of bottlenecks; over time, aim to replace anything relying on you or any one person with a system or process that ensure it happens by default. 

Patience, intentionality, and allowing things to progress naturally will be required to make this thread successful. Repeatedly look to create bridges and connections with teams and stakeholders in the new company rather than feed into any culture differences that are seen as irreconcilable.

Motivating yourself and individuals on my team

Acquisitions are very frequently reflection points and, sometimes, pivots for our careers. You may find this true for yourself and for your team.

Use this transition period as a career season check-in. Acquisition aside, what does each of your reports want out of work at the moment? Are they in a phase where they’re ready for a challenge, or are they looking for more stability?

With answers to these questions, you have more data on how to best support them and structure your team. For example, folks who are up for a challenge can be great partners in figuring out what this period will need. And for those in your team who are in a more steady season, spot opportunities where they can deliver value, where the scope and goals are well defined.

It’s wise to expect that the team or even the company will no longer be a good fit for some folks. That’s healthy; support them with any resources and opportunities you’re able to, and wish them the best! Tech is a small world, after all.

Make space for yourself to go through this process, too. Grab a couple of quiet hours when nothing else is demanding your attention, and answer the same questions you asked your reports concerning current job expectations. You can journal or speak with a friend or a coach about them. You’ll come out with a better idea of how this role ties into your bigger career goals, where the gaps are, and a strategy for next steps. This can be a strategy for success in this role, or equally starting to think about what a potential next role may look like if it turns out that this current position isn’t really a good match for you.

Final checklist

Here’s a short checklist of traps you might see on this path and what to do instead.


  • “Sticking to your guns.” Trying to convince others that your team’s previous way is the right way.
  • Relying on chance and time alone to drive your team’s integration with the new company without any input from yourself. Not only is this a slow process, but it is a missed opportunity for intentionally building the next chapter of your team.
  • Trying to change everything at once. It can be exhausting and feel like your wheels are spinning.


  • Communicate with your stakeholders and new counterparts in their own language.
  • Decouple practices from values. Invite change and experimentation both ways.
  • Build effective trust. Do this by removing ambiguity and proactively and consistently adding value.

Clear communication, intention in your actions, and bridge-building with your new colleagues and stakeholders will go a really long way.