Putting Together A Successful Team: What To Look For

The day of the one-man negotiating team is over in business and personal affairs.  If you want to do well, negotiate with someone at your side.

Not long ago, the government would assign a person to go from plant to plant closing multimillion dollar deals.  Government negotiators were like traveling preachers.  It was an absurd practice because most contracts were too complex for a single person to handle well.  There are still a few industrial companies who continue to depend on an “all-wise itinerant negotiator.”  They would, in my view, be better off with two or three persons on the team if the size of the contracts or the importance of the issues warranted the extra cost.

The advantages of team negotiators are overwhelming.  Teams bring a broad base of knowledge to the table.  They are more creative than individuals.  Properly organized, they are less apt to overlook important details.  They plan better and, as a group, think better.

Research indicates that teams tend to take greater risks in setting higher targets than individuals.  However, when risks entail large losses that are potentially life or organization threatening, they become conservative.  Groups of people on the same team perceive power differently from those who bargain alone.  Individuals tend to dwell on their own side’s limitations, whereas groups reinforce each other’s strength by challenging their team assumptions and constraints.

Teams serve another important function after the contract is signed.  Having many people from various departments participate in the bargaining helps sell the final agreement internally.  It provides each department with an understandable basis for allocating budgets and committing themselves to performance.  Griping and “Monday morning” criticism about the agreement are reduced.

Team bargaining does have drawbacks.  Good leaders are not easy to find.  It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you don’t look good on a horse.  Leaders have to look and act the part.  They have to be tactful and flexible.

One difficult responsibility of the team leader is to control the content and flow of discussions.  Discussions sometimes drag on interminably on points hardly worth talking about.  I’ll never forget a session where eight people at the table wasted three hours because an engineer asked how the bubble in the gyro was extracted. It was interesting, but not useful. The team leader should have cut the discussion short.  Most of us have been on teams where the leader allowed team members to speak at the wrong time and reveal too much information.  These dangers notwithstanding, go into the talks with someone knowledgeable at your side if the stakes warrant it.  This will enhance your bargaining power.


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