The formal negotiations process remains perhaps the least-studied moment of collective bargaining. Drawing on ideal types of ‘distributive’ and ‘integrative’ bargaining and the ‘formal/informal’ distinction, this article reports non-participant observation and ethnographic research into the negotiations process that enabled a change agreement in a British multinational, hereafter anonymised as FMCG. Informal bargaining relations provided the backdrop to—and emerged within—the formal negotiations process. Formal bargaining established new employment contracts based on a simplified internal labour market and generated the joint governance processes to enable and regulate the change process. Neither management nor union strategy was wholly derived from rational, interest-based positions. The negotiations process was essential to strategy formation and to the emergence of sufficient ‘integrative’ bargaining for all parties to devise and approve new processual institutions and norms to deliver a more flexible labour process and to restore the long-run viability for ‘distributive’ bargaining.