Negotiating in Teams

I've got quite a few upcoming assignments involving negotiating in teams, so I thought ideas in that arena might be a good way to begin the year.

  • Teams are fun! I’m always struck by how often I find teams laughing and enjoying themselves as they prepare for a negotiation. The interaction with others is usually a lot more fun than hammering out a strategy and tactics by yourself.
  • A team gives you access to different points of view. No matter how clever or smart you are, no one knows it all. Some situations require diverse sets of knowledge, abilities, or expertise. The different shadings and points of view that emerge from a team approach can pay off in real dollars.

    And, as in anything else, there can be downsides:
  • Teams take more time. The process of interacting (and exploring all those different options and ideas) takes time. It’s easy to get sidetracked and spend time on dead-end approaches.
  • Team solutions can be too complicated. We’ve all experienced a hopelessly complicated end product that was a result of a team effort—take the U.S. Tax Code, for example, or just about any bill that gets through Congress. Negotiations can suffer the same problems.

    When I'm preparing a team for a negotiation, here's a few general guidelines I try to follow:
  • Try to have about the same number of negotiators as the other team. A large team will often be perceived as reflecting strength, and going it alone can be perceived as weakness. For example, you show up alone for a negotiation, and the other side includes a regional vice president, two technical experts, someone from legal, and an admin to take notes.
  • Keep teams relatively small. It’s hard enough to get five or six people to agree on something, much less twelve or fifteen. With a large team, the hardest negotiation is often before you get to the table.
  • Determine who you want on the team—and why.  This is a key point that cannot be overstated.  Identify the different roles that need to be represented, think of individuals who could do a good job, assess the value they bring to the table, and then pick those who best fit the bill.
  • Assign roles—someone has to take the lead. Be sure everyone knows their role (technical expert, number cruncher, legal whiz, etc.), the area they are expected to speak on, and when to keep their mouth shut.
  • And finally, prepare, rehearse, practice!  This step is the most important, and the most neglected.  A negotiating team that has simply “thought about” a negotiation does about as well as a football team that has “thought about” plays, or an orchestra that has “thought about” a piece of music. I tell clients all over the world, “the study of negotiation is more akin to golf or karate than anything else"—nothing substitutes for practice.

Good negotiating to you!