Keeping a Negotiating Team in SyncIn the September issue of the Harvard Business Review, I lingered over only one article, namely, "How to Manage Your Negotiating Team," by Jeanne M. Brett (Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University), Ray Friedman (Owen Graduate School of Business at Vanderbilt University), and Kristin Behfar (Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California-Irvine). The article is a short five pages.
Brett, Friedman, and Behfer (BFB) note that "The payoff from negotiating as a team is clear. With access to greater expertise and the ability to assign members to specialized roles, teams can implement more complex strategies than a solo negotiator can ever pull off." The problem is that different members of the team are likely to have different priorities and different desired outcomes, so pre-negotiation prep needs to include specific steps to get and keep the team in sync.
BFB describe four steps to take to ensure everyone on the team is committed to common goals and a common strategy:
- Map out the conflicts. BFB illustrate one way of doing this: Create a matrix that, for each goal of the negotiation, captures each internal party's interests and particular views concerning priority and preferred outcome. This helps clarify the trade-offs needed in order for the team to be able to "coalesce around the highest-margin proposal."
- Work with all the organizational constituents to get them aligned. BFB note that if "constituents are presented with all the facts, ... they might be willing to concede more ground because they'll also see the bigger picture." Another possibility is "reality testing" illustrating "the dangers of not working together to make a deal happen" by spelling out "the worst-case outcome for the company and individual units." This approach can concentrate minds and elicit cooperation to help ensure a better outcome. Alternatively, the team might be structured to include a senior executive (or other corporate representative) with authority to bring everyone into line behind a common plan.
- Mediate any stubborn conflicts of interest. The mediator can be a team member or an outside facilitator.
- Persuade with data. Present data that make clear the effect team members' constructive efforts would have on their departments. Take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the objectivity of the data is credited by team members.
- Do a dry run in which you simulate the negotiation. Team members role play the back-and-forth to prepare for objections; to determine who should speak up when, and who should stay quiet; to anticipate different players' likely emotional responses; and to clarify who has authority to make concessions and decisions.
- Assign roles to team members that take advantage of their strengths and interests. Help the experts on the team understand when they should weigh in and when they should let someone else do the talking, and ensure that there is a leader who will be "managing preparation logistics, making sure the team's strategy has been vetted by higher-level management or even the board, and finalizing roles and responsibilities for the bargaining session itself."
- Establish a plan for intra-team communication during the negotiation. Heading off to caucus when private intra-team communication is needed is generally an unnecessarily dramatic signal to the other side that your team is making some sort of adjustment. Instead, BFB found that effective teams "established creative ways to communicate with one another, which ranged from the explicit to the implicit and from low to high tech." Such things as putting your hands on the table and stretching to signal to the team member speaking that he/she is headed off the rez, or arranging the team's seats so nudges and note-passing can be discreet. Geographically dispersed team members might decide to use text messaging. Etc.