Team Negotiations Require Much Planning

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 13, 2009

Do you believe there is strength in numbers?  Teams are based on the notion that two heads are better than one.

I agree, most of the time.  But when it comes to team-based negotiations, you need more skill than asking a couple of people to represent the organization’s best interests at the negotiating table.

To ensure smooth team negotiations:

Clarify Roles.  “Considering each team member often plays multiple roles in a negotiation, be clear about who does what during the planning and actual negotiation,” says Tom Wood, a negotiation expert with Watershed Associates.  “Each player has a specific purpose, which means each player prepares in advance for that purpose” (see roles below).

Strategize.  Make sure all team members understand which strategy will be used in a particular negotiation and how their respective roles will play out using that strategy.

Stakeholder Input.   Identify stakeholders early on and get their input and commitment.  For example, if a purchasing manager is participating in the negotiations where a new supplier will be selected to replace one of the operation department’s most strategic suppliers, the operations manager should be involved in the process from the beginning.

Train ‘Em Up.  Every member should be trained in the negotiation process.  Make sure each person understands how the team handles each aspect of a negotiation ( i.e., caucuses, concessions, first offers, etc.).

Don’t Be Goofy.  “You absolutely must invest time to train them in their physical behavior ( i.e., facial expressions, reactions, etc. and pre-establish a communications protocol,” says James E. Hart, formerly vice president of finance and procurement, Rockwell Automation.  “There is nothing worse than a big grin by a member of your team when the supplier makes a concession or a frantic note is pushed across the table,” adds Hart.  “Good negotiation teams see and work those obvious weaknesses.”

Script It Out.  Rockwell has their teams script potential conversations to assure that the right person will deliver the right message.

Manage Airtime.  Team negotiating is much more time intensive.  The greater number of people, the more time spent on clarification, probing, disagreements, and making sure all voices are heard.

Speak with One Voice.  With more people involved, more opportunities exist for error.  “One-on-one negotiation means each side is represented by only one personality, thus able to create only one impression,” says Wood.  “With a team, even though the members are taught to speak with ‘one voice’ throughout, multiple personalities are representing the company, thus creating varied impressions accordingly.”

Make Decisions.  Establish a hierarchy of decision making within the team (i.e.,  majority vote, command decision, unanimous, consensus) and always have a fallback position.

Team negotiations require more skill than one-on-one negotiations.


Team Negotiation Roles by Tom Wood, Watershed Associates

Team Leader.  Responsible for providing team guidance and leadership, yet not necessarily present during the actual negotiations.

Lead Negotiator.  The face-to-face lead person heading the negotiation, who must be shown the utmost respect before, during, and after the meeting.

Back-Up Negotiator.  Prearranged for very strategic negotiations, where the loss of time due to sickness or emergency cannot be allowed.

Facilitator.  A process consultant or mediator used when relations can be weak or strained.  As a neutral, objective third party, the facilitator moves negotiations beyond an impasse.

Number Cruncher.  When negotiations require complex pricing/cost analysis (i.e., long-term contract), have the person who knows the numbers in the room.

Subject Matter Expert.  The person who has technical expertise in the product or service being negotiated.  Examples include engineers, product, or production managers.

Observer.  Any person present at the negotiation who isn’t speaking.  This role must be taken very seriously since the nature of observations is typically called upon and analyzed during the post-negotiating process.

Scribe.  For more protracted negotiations, someone documents the meeting in “minutes.”

Bad Cop.  In true win-win negotiations, the bad cop is rarely in the room.  Instead, someone alludes to the existence of a bad cop:  “I don’t think I could get this approved through legal.”

Question:  Are your team negotiations producing the results you desire?

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