Early on in my guild leadership experience, I made the decision to merge with another guild. We were in EverQuest, and while we had built up a pretty solid roster, we were approaching our first raid content up in the Planes of Hate and Fear, and to tackle them, we needed a large raid force. At the time, there was no limit on the number of people you could bring in, so it was viable to bring in friends and players outside your guild. And it was actually important to bring a large enough force, because our server worked on a calendar system, and guilds generally only had one shot at the planes every two or three months. So going in underprepared meant a wasted day and no chance of going back for a long time.
As a result, I talked with a guild that I felt was similar to ours. Its members were a bit ahead in progression, but the difference was minute. We talked with our members, got them on board, and actually reformed ourselves as Reviquus, which was a combination of our two guild names. Looking back, that ridiculous name was the first sign that this merge was headed for disaster. I had tried to be flexible and had even agreed to let the other guild leader be the one to make final decisions, but what ended up happening is that the two guilds never meshed well. His guild stayed loyal to him, and my guild stayed loyal to me. Members went to far as to argue over whom to follow, and when it got to the point that I was being personally attacked, I left.
When I removed myself from the guild, I fully expected that I'd need to start completely over to rebuild, and I contemplated whether I even wanted to do that at all. Ironically, the next morning, I got a flood of messages from both my members and many of his members, and they told me that overnight, they had left the guild as well. We ended up reforming Revelry and Honor, and we ended up being stronger than before. But even though we benefited from it, I would definitely have done things differently, because what we gained as a guild wasn't worth the bad feelings and emotional drama that we had to endure.
A team, B team -- I just want off this team!
One of the biggest issues with a guild merge is the issue of power. When we merged, we didn't address this soon enough, and while both guilds entered into the partnership thinking it would be an even, balanced relationship, we needed one leader and one set of guild rules. Just like we did with our guild name, we tried to take a little from each of our own guilds, and the result was a gigantic mess. It would have been better in the long run to have one guild agree to merge into the other, with the understanding that the members would adopt the other guild's name, policies, and guild rules. Over the years, I've had other guild merges, and we've done it that way with great success. I think our biggest problem was that the two guilds were too close in size and progression. It would have been much easier had one of us been further behind than the other, because then both parties would have had an easier time adjusting to one guild culture -- the one that's further ahead.
Bizarro world, or clash of the titans
If you're a Seinfeld fan, you've probably seen the episode featuring Bizarro world, inspired by DC comics, where Jerry and his friends stumble upon a band of friends who are oddly similar. Guild mergers can often feel like that, and it can be a very uncomfortable feeling. Every guild has the joker, the guild mama, the weak link, etc. And guilds end up forming a culture around member interactions and player personalities. So combining the two can sometimes lead to awkward moments, and if left to fester, these can boil over into resentment, bad feelings, and drama. The more you can do to get the two groups of members playing together, the easier it will be in the long run, because people will begin to trust each other and form a common culture within the new guild.
It takes time, but you can help it along
Merging with another guild is a long process. Even after all the logistics are finalized, the members will need to adjust at their own pace. And it's a balancing act -- as a guild leader, you want to encourage both parties to play together, especially if you're raiding. You need them to think as one guild rather than two distinct parties, because if they don't trust each other, they aren't going to succeed and pull through when things go bad. But at the same time, you have to recognize the bonds that have formed within each guild and respect the fact that they will need time to do their own thing. I've had a few times when I've invited in pockets of members who were guilded together, but for whatever reason, were too small to progress in game.
In the immediate weeks afterwards, I try to keep close tabs on the transition, and I usually am more active in pulling members from the newly merged group into instance runs. I keep it low-key overall, and I find that members end up bonding easier when it doesn't feel forced. Casual chat about jobs, hobbies, family usually strike up right away, and before you know it, members forget that they were even from two different guilds. I always know when things have gone well when members share insight into their classes and techniques. That can be a sensitive issue because people can easily misinterpret advice as an accusation that they're not good players. When members allow others to critique them and offer advice, you know the merger was successful.
Mergers can work, but only if both parties go into it with a clear idea of what's expected and what the relationship will be. The more you iron out beforehand, the easier the transition will be. But whatever you do, please do not choose to rename yourselves Reviquus. Trust me, you'll regret it if you do!
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.