5 Lessons Dancers Can Teach Us About Merger and Acquisition Success

In my career, I have been on all sides of mergers and acquisitions (M&As), having led integration efforts for businesses and more recently with my business, Planar, having been acquired by Leyard.

I liken the success of M&As to the work of two experienced dancers coming together for the first time.

Each partner brings his or her own strengths and style of dance, and each partnership creates something new and different.

In the same way, M&As require the participants to learn a new dance, one that takes effort and communication to get it right.

Here are five lessons that the world of dance holds for successful M&As:

1. The choreography sets the pace

It’s important to know what dance is expected. The foxtrot, the tango, and hip-hop are all different and require different moves and skills, so it’s critical to understand what to prepare before the music begins.

In the same way, a successful acquisition requires integration planning to ensure that everyone is prepared for what lies ahead.

Knowing the dance is one thing. Knowing how to adjust to a new partner is another. Without a plan of attack and clear communication, confusion and ambiguity can strip the combined organization of its productivity.

2. Clear roles and responsibilities matter

As with any dance, it’s important to determine who is leading and who is following. In M&A transactions, this is often clear, as one company acquires another or new organizational charts are established.

When Leyard acquired Planar, steps were taken to identify the roles and responsibilities of individuals, taking adequate time to determine who would be leading.

Nothing is perfect, of course, but clear roles and responsibilities, especially in the leadership ranks, help keep people focused on the dance, not on the backstage drama.

3. Successful integrations require listening and forgiveness

Despite the best efforts at communication, even the most experienced dancers can step on each other’s toes. Looking back over the integrations I have been involved with, I can think of dozens of missteps; times when I rushed something that required more time and coordination. Times when customers or employees were unnecessarily surprised by change.

While missteps like these are normal, it’s important to learn from them and turn them into opportunities that build trust. By being humble and open, the dance itself can teach all parties what it means to be a world-class partner.

4. Trust is at the core

Dancers often hurl their bodies into the air expecting to be caught, but before they do, they need to trust the strength and technical skills of their partner.

The same is true of M&A integrations, and what can build trust and teamwork faster than anything is obtaining a common view of the problem.

Business leaders talk about facing the truth, measuring performance, and being data-driven. All of these help people with different perspectives to see the same set of facts and share the same sense of urgency, ultimately creating a foundation for cross-functional teamwork.

5. Teamwork takes time

Experienced dancers may make it look easy, but even they will dance more smoothly and confidently the more practice they have with a particular partner.

So what happens when you go right from rehearsal to the stage, as is the case with most M&A integrations? This is where experience and attitude play a huge role.

Leyard acquired Planar, in part, due to the strong and established management team, and the team’s previous experience acquiring and integrating companies has already proven useful in navigating the current transition. Today, we are six months into the integration, and although it is still early, we are making real progress towards the success of the combined company.

This article was first published on the American Business Journal's BizJournals.com website.