Hopefully you've given some thought to your WoW Identity (both personal and guild), and considered how important it is to you.
Now, let's talk about Guild Mergers.
I've only been directly involved in one guild merger. It was my first guild, one in which I inherited the guild master title from the founder, who logged in one day, transferred leadership to me without saying a word, then gquit. I wasn't even level 60 at the time if I recall correctly. I did my best, and fairly well under the circumstances, but I also made a large number of mistakes. One of those was trying to push us into Molten Core faster than we were able. We had 25 or so regular members and wanted to get into raiding.
We'd tried running a guild alliance with a guild who was working on BWL, trying to do "half-and-half" MC runs, but they screwed us over on the first run by promising us 20 spaces then only providing 12. Incensed and unwilling to cut almost half of my signups, we left their run and cobbled together a 28 person raid which took down Lucifron before getting eaten alive by Magmadar.
We kept trying to recruit, but could never get to a critical mass of people. One of our members put us in touch with another guild in a similar situation. We talked over the idea of a merger, then did a few 20 man raids to get a feel for each other. Those raids were filled with mostly leadership types and the other top players, and overall went pretty well. We got along, killed the bosses, and ended the run thinking that this group would go far together.
We agreed that they would merge into us. I remained the GM, with their GM and his officers all becoming officers in the new guild. I'd already made the mistake of having too many officers in my guild (seven or eight), so this put us at thirteen officers in a guild of about 50 people.
Within a week or so, problems started to arise. Our guild wasn't stellar by any means, but they were pretty mature (in line with what you'd expect given the positions I've written about). The merged guild had a lot of younger age people in it, and were right on the other side of the maturity scale.
One of my members quit because she had had to deal with sexual harassment in chat from one of merged members in the past. Guild chat became so garbage-filled that I had to create a separate chat channel and kick people over to it when they started babbling.
In retrospect, I was overly heavy-handed, and some of the new people picked up on this and chose to press my buttons. It drove me up the wall, to the point where I took a week-long vacation and told my officers to get things in some semblance of order by the time I returned or I'd start kicking people.
As you might expect, things didn't get back into order, and most of the new people (and some of my members) left the guild. We re-built over time, though a job change forced me to step down as GM and subsequently leave the guild and the server. They stayed together through TBC, but from the looks of the armory, the guild fell apart completely before the 3.0.2 patch.
What went wrong? Many things. I wasn't an experienced GM. I exposed my weakness with regards to immaturity to some children who chose to take advantage of it. Mostly, we didn't do enough investigation before choosing to merge. The best of ours and the best of theirs got together, and we were both surprised when that wasn't representative of either guild as a whole.
I didn't pay enough attention to what my guild's identity was, and I didn't consider how the integration of the other guild would change it. In this case, it brought the maturity aspect of our identity down below what I considered to be minimum acceptable levels, which led to me acting the way I did.
I haven't heard very many guild merger success stories. You don't really even see many stories about mergers at all these days (unless it's one that you didn't even realize was happening). The 10 person raids in Wrath combined with the easy of acquiring loot means that you rarely are in a position where a guild merger is the best option available.
Will that change in Cataclysm? Perhaps. If recruting woes aren't letting you move from 10 to 25 person raids, merging in a small guild that doesn't have much of a guild built up may be quite attractive: you get the people you need and the incoming members get access to the talents and heirloom patterns that they don't have.
Conversely, as a guild's age (post-4.0) increases, the idea of a merger becomes less attractive, because you can't bring anything but the warm bodies over. Both guilds might be at level 20, but they will likely have different patterns and different talents. You might be able to reconcile talents, but patterns will not carry over.
For now though, let's assume that we're still in WoW 3.x and you're considering the merge of two 10 person guilds into a single guild for 25 person raiding. What are the practical things that leadership on both side should consider? For the purposes of discussion, I'm going to assume that you are the guild into which another is merging.
How much your guild name factors into your identity can be a sticky point for mergers. Some people are very attached to such things, while others couldn't care less. Find out if there is strong attachment on either side. If both sides are strongly attached, then you may consider starting a new guild so that everyone gives up their name rather than one side being forced to.
In Cataclysm, this gets even harder: what the guild has built up will trump the name of the guild. What if you're looking at a merger with a guild with a full stock of heirloom patterns and members you like, but whose name you hate? You can't all start over, because then you have to re-earn all the levels and patterns.
Who is going to be the new GM? While you can organizationally have a co-GM setup, at the end of the day one account has ultimate power over the guild. I'm not a proponent of co-GM setups because then it feels like you're not really integrating: you're maintaining two organizations under one guild tag, and each GM will be preferential to their legacy players. Perhaps this is an easy decision because the other guild's GM is absent or looking to step down anyway. If you have two strong leadership types who want to continue, then can either come to an agreement on who becomes an officer, or you can agree to swap the GM role back and forth periodically.
If coming to an agreement on leadership turns out to be a difficult part of the planning, you may want to re-consider the merger. You don't want to set yourself up for a power struggle. A guild needs clear leadership, and if the person who becomes an officer is going to be second-guessing you, that sends a message to the members that the GM isn't really in charge. You don't want a back-seat GM - you're looking more for Picard and Riker, not Spock and Kirk.
How do both guilds handle loot? If you're both using a stateful system, how do you merge the standings? Do you just start over? What if one guild has a stateful system like EP/GP or DKP and the other just does /roll? You can't start the new people off at a zero standing, but you may not have the records to calculate a reasonable value to assign to each person.
Depending on how you manage your loot standings when a new patch comes out, it may make sense to time a merge to coincide with a patch. This can work especially well if you have a new pool for each patch, and old content moves to /roll right away. It's a little harder if you keep multiple pools going for each content tier, but you may find less resistance to giving the incoming members a "courtesy value" in an pool that is tied to old content than the current loot pool.
If your loot policy isn't very detailed but everyone in your guild understands the unwritten parts, close those loopholes now. Don't assume that the new members will read between the lines in the same manner as your members. If interpretations differ, talk those over before committing the changes.
Are your raid days compatible? Some people pick a guild specifically because of when they raid. Unless you're lucky enough to have very similar schedules, you may lose some members on one side if you keep your schedule, or both sides if you try to come up with a new schedule. If your goal from the merger is to be able to do 25 person content where you were unable to do so before, make sure that 28-30 people can attend on your new raid days.
Also consider attendance requirements. If one side has them but the other does not, this may cause problems when people start to lose rank. Make sure everyone understands what the introduction or increase in attendance requirements means. Some members may see the introduction of attendance requirements as an unnecessary push towards "hardcore" that they do not want to be a part of.
Do you offer a repair stipend but the other guild does not? Or perhaps the other guild does profit sharing but you do not. Make a list of all the perks that members of both guilds get. Can you support giving all the perks to every member? If not, have both guilds order the perks in terms of importance, then take the top half of that list. Both sides may have to give up some perks as part of the merge.
The Guild Bank
How much is each guild's bank worth? If you've never gone through the exercise, you may be surprised to find tens of thousands of gold in your bank at market rate. Do you have space for the contens both banks in one guild? Can you trust that the other guild has not distributed some of the content to their own members before the merge?
I would strongly recommend that each guild go through the process I described in Breaking Up A Guild Bank and distribute the contents of their bank to their members before the merge. Let everyone come into the merge with an empty bank so that everything earned from this point can rightly be considered a joint asset.
As I allued to in the article on identity, guilds have an identity which is aligned (sometimes strongly, sometimes not) with the identity of their members. A guild's identity includes how you treat other members of your realm, the principles behind their policies, the atmosphere on their Ventrilo server, and the "fit" that they're looking for in a new applicant. That "fit" is the most nebulous part of identity. It's hard to describe it in words, but you know when a new applicant fits, and you usually know even more quickly when they don't.
Be honest with yourself when considering a merger. Some of your guild's identity is going to change. Some of it is going to be lost, and some new aspects are going to be introduced. If that scares the hell out of you, then reconsider the merger. Don't go forward with something that members of either guild will turn into a seething resentment.
You can minimize the changes to identity by interacting a lot before the merger. In one of my guilds, we regularly filled in our 10 man raids with 2-3 people from another guild who were not big enough to even do 10 man content. We all fit together fairly well, and a merger was suggested several times. I think if we'd gone through with it, that guild might still be around, but in the end it was a technical issue - raid days - that made it impossible to proceed.
What you want to avoid is one guild's identity overwhelming the other, forcing the members who came in to become a clique within the guild. I've seen this happen, and it didn't end well. You're not adopting the members of another guild as a bloc. You're becoming one guild, and everyone should be treated as if they've been a member for as long as they've been with either guild in the past. That means no trial periods, and accurate rank translation from day 1.
If you don't do enough research into raid scheduling, or if people don't give you sincere answers about when they can attend raids, you can find yourself in the unenviable position of having to cancel the newly scheduled 25 person raids because you can't get enough members together on the same night. This can rapidly send a merger into danger, because you either stop people from raiding (in which case they may go and try to organize their own 10 person runs), or attempt to organize multiple 10 person runs on the fly. That will either lead to cliques being formed or reinforced, or people playing with people that they've never met while someone they want to play with is in another group.
Steel Yourself for Change, But Don't Jump In
Be prepared to lose some people from either side. Some people will have personality conflicts that you couldn't have predicted, or a bad history with incoming members. Some people will hold onto resentments because they didn't want to merge, but wanted to keep raiding with their friends. Eventually, these can explode. If that person has close ties to others in the guild, it could cause others to follow.
I recommend making the decision to merge guilds a full guild vote, with a strong majority required to pass - 66% or even 75% wouldn't be unreasonable. Make sure that people understand what they're gaining and what they're losing. When you try to merge policies, loot distribution and perks, make sure that you're doing so with input from your members. What you consider a vanity perk might be quite important to your members, and you don't want the merged guild to only represent your vision.
Don't be afraid to fall back to a reasonable alternative. If the goal of the merge is to run 25 person content but the guild vote fails, or you have trouble reconciling policy or loot distribution, consider abandoning the merger. If you're currently able to do 10 person content but are benching 2-3 people each time, consider adding a raid night and spreading people out a bit more. Or ask for volunteers who don't need loot as much to sit from time to time.
Consider what other challenges are available to you - if you haven't done all the hard modes you can, perhaps you can switch to a min-max hardmode raid, where you need 12-13 people online all the time to switch up from encounter to encounter.You may have to make some changes to your loot system (such as providing better standby bonuses) to make this attractive to your members, but there usually are ways to keep challenging the people you have other than moving to 25 person raids.
You may find that when the plan to merge is scrapped, some of your members who are set on 25 person loot decide to leave. Be ready for the possibility. You might go from a 12-13 person guild to an 8 person - be ready to recruit quickly, or bring non-raiders up to spec in order to keep your 10 person raids alive. I can be deadly to attempt a merge, call it off, then end up in a worse position than you started (being unable to do even 10 person raids).
Remember to take a good hard look at where you are. The state of recruiting is going to be very different in Cataclysm. I assume that we're going to have the same "new mechanics 6 weeks before the expansion" type of patch that we did for WotLK, so you'll have some time to see this in action before the leveling push begins. Even things we learn from the beta won't give us that much insight into people's behaviour with regards to guilds - we'll just have to wait and see. Don't rush into a merger just because you want to get gear that is 14 iLevels above what you can today. It's all getting recycled, and you may find that the recruiting woes you face today are a faint memory once everyone is at level 85 and you can offer free repairs with money from a guild tax that is invisible to your members.
Until Next Time