Some negotiations are simple enough to handle on our own, but those deals are increasingly rare in the business world. These days, to thrive in negotiation, you often need to be able to work effectively as part of a negotiation team.
When to Build a Negotiation Team
It may not always be clear when you should assemble a negotiation team. According to Cornell University professor Elizabeth Mannix, negotiating as a team can be preferable to going it alone in the following situations:
- Complex negotiations that require diverse knowledge;
- Negotiations with great potential for creativity and value creation;
- Negotiations with multiple constituents who all have a stake in the outcome;
- International contexts in which team negotiations are the norm; and
- Negotiations in which there is sufficient time to coordinate a team approach.
The Upside of Teamwork
Working as part of a negotiation team can bring many benefits. In negotiation, two or more heads can be better than one. As compared with solo negotiators, teams are better at effective negotiation strategies such as developing tradeoffs among issues, Northwestern professor Leigh Thompson and fellow researchers Erika Peterson and Susan Brodt have found. Teams tend to be better than solo negotiators at exchanging information with counterparts and making accurate judgments, and they tend to reach better outcomes. Teams also tend to feel more powerful, less competitive, and less pressured than individual negotiators, according to research by Cornell professor Kathleen O’Connor.
The tendency of teams to outperform solo negotiators has been attributed to several factors, including the high economic goals that teams set for themselves, their heightened sense of competition, and members’ tendency to challenge one another’s views. It may also be important that those participating in a team negotiation monitor one another’s behavior, while individuals often negotiate unobserved by others in their organizations. Monitoring tends to amplify the social norms, or behavioral expectations, that are stand out in a negotiation.
These benefits aside, there are certain tendencies that a negotiation team needs to watch out for. For example, a negotiation team may be especially susceptible to “groupthink,” or the tendency for groups of people to adhere to the same viewpoint and disregard information that contradicts that view. Effective negotiation can also be hampered by destructive coalitions and factions. For these reasons, openly encourage members of your negotiation team to share opposing views, perhaps even assigning a “devil’s advocate” to fill that role. In addition, strive for consensus building on important decisions rather than voting.
Build a Better Team
If an upcoming negotiation seems to warrant a team approach, you must identify appropriate roles and recruit the right people to fill them. According to Hal Movius of the Consensus Building Institute and MIT professor Lawrence Susskind, the following four roles are essential:
1. Team leader. It’s important to appoint a team leader who is well versed in the principles of mutual gains negotiation. From the outset of talks, the team leader should be prepared to guide participants into a discussion of compatible interests and potential tradeoffs.
2. Stakeholders. When we think of a team negotiation, we picture a group of people seated at a bargaining table. Yet Movius notes that it also can be beneficial to view a team as comprising the broad array of stakeholders within your organization who will be affected by the negotiation’s final outcome. Ensure that your team represents the departments or divisions that have a stake in the content and process of the team negotiation.
During talks, stakeholder representatives should keep their constituents’ interests and perspectives firmly in mind. Such individuals should also keep stakeholders informed of the progress of talks and bring their ideas back to the team. By enlisting the support of potential deal blockers, your team can gain the mandate it needs to engage in joint problem solving aimed at meeting a multitude of interests.
3. Bridge builders. In negotiation, trust is essential to collaboration and value creation. Yet trust can be a particular challenge in team negotiation, where numerous people on both sides may be meeting one another for the first time. For this reason, Movius and Susskind advise you to include, when possible, an individual who has a positive relationship with likely team members on the other side or who has some understanding of their goals, metrics, and concerns. At the table, someone should be charged with listening carefully to the other side’s perspectives, ideas, and interests and watching their reactions to proposals.
4. Technical experts. Your team should include individuals who have technical knowledge and experience dealing with the same (or similar) negotiating partners. Your team leader will have a sense of the specialized capabilities needed to maximize value creation, according to Susskind.
What other advice would you offer to those who are thinking about forming a negotiation team?