Negotiation November: Leading a Negotiating Team — Three Essential Steps to Success

CarolFrohlingerContributed by Carol Frohlinger, Co-Author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success

Negotiating on your own can be tricky. Things get exponentially more complicated though when negotiation must be played as a team sport.

Let’s say you’re leading a shared services group that’s been given a mandate to centralize certain functions currently residing in individual business units. Chances are your team will face challenges from the business units affected about how your group will meet their needs. Your team will need to sit down with them to work things out.

Or, if you are trying to close a complex sale, it probably won’t be enough to merely assure your prospective client that your team will be able to seamlessly deliver on the proposal. A meeting between your team and the client will be required to make your case.

These situations (and many others) demand that you and those you lead negotiate effectively as a unified team. Not easy!

Some advice:

1. Pick the negotiating team carefully.
Your first impulse will be to enlist people with relevant subject matter/ technical expertise. Don’t just go with that – your selection criteria must also take personality into account.

  • Filter Out the “Butt Kickers.”
    If you’re concerned about achieving a “win-win” outcome, avoid win-lose people. They’re the ones who fundamentally believe the only “win” for your team means exacting lots of concessions from the other party.
  • Go Beyond the Usual Suspects.
    Include people with diverse backgrounds – they’ll add value by helping the team to see the issues from a variety of perspectives. They’ll also enhance your team’s ability to craft creative proposals.
  • Eliminate the “Wanna Be” Heroes.
    Heroism can manifest itself in many ways in a negotiating team context—none of them good. People who are incapable of listening, those who talk too much or the ones who are constitutionally unable to take direction will cause negotiating disasters. Don’t let them.

2. Invest time to prepare.
As tempting as it may be to meet briefly and then hope for the best, resist. All negotiations benefit from preparation but team negotiations inevitably fail without it.

  • Establish the Goals.
    Collaborate on a negotiating strategy. Be sure that everyone understands (and is on board with) the desired outcome as well as the implications if negotiations fail.
  • Agree On Roles.
    Not everybody can play the lead. Decide who will orchestrate the negotiation and who’ll be the supporting cast. Clarity regarding roles minimizes the chance that a well-intentioned team member will feel compelled to over-contribute.
  • Anticipate Pushback.
    Brainstorm a list of the things you expect the other party to question or object to and determine how the team will handle these. Will the lead negotiator answer these or will she defer to a team member with particular expertise? Adopting a reply process ensures the team that no one will go rogue by agreeing too quickly to something the other party proposes or, conversely, dismiss any ideas out of hand.

Pay attention to process.
Agreement on issues can be helped — or hindered — by things that may seem minor. Don’t ignore them.

  • Create an Agenda and a Seating Chart.
    Decide what issues must be addressed and propose an order to discuss them. If you are able to reach agreement with the other party on the agenda either before the meeting or at the beginning, it’ll set a positive tone. If the meeting is in person, think about who should sit where. It might be a good idea to intersperse members of your team with those from the other party to create a friendlier environment.
  • Arrange a “Time Out” Signal.
    Rather than relying only on verbal requests for time to regroup, concur on an unobtrusive gesture that indicates a team member wants a sidebar.
  • Appoint a Scribe.
    Documenting agreements is an important part of making negotiated solutions work and even more critical when multiple players are at the table. Have someone on your team own that task — circulate a draft within the team before it goes to the other party for sign-off.

And finally, use every negotiation as an opportunity to build your team’s negotiating prowess. Take the time to debrief and discuss what worked well and why as well as what the team will do the next time to be even more effective.

When negotiating, two heads can better than one and three better than two, but only if the heads nod in unison.