Negotiation Blog

Balancing the Individual and the Group in Team Negotiating

By Thomas Wood

I recently consulted with a sales team that was preparing for negotiations with their company’s largest customer. They encountered some roadblocks along the way, not with the customer as it turns out, but within the team itself. Negotiating as a team can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Having just gone through this experience, I wanted to share three of the lessons learned:

Individual ideas matter. Though teams are individuals brought together to reach a common goal, it is easy to get lost in the group. When I arrived at the client, I interviewed the individual team members and was impressed with their great ideas. Then I reviewed the preliminary negotiation strategy the team had developed. Guess what? Most of those great ideas were missing! One key to success is to negotiate as a team, but prepare as a group of creative individuals.

Different ideas stimulate progress and thought; each member of the team is there to contribute his/her expertise, talent and unique perspective. We gathered together with this new approach in mind, and followed some practical advice from Kristin Arnold of The Extraordinary Team. Kristin advocates that teams “encourage robust dialogue” and “suffer the silence to allow our team mates to think through the question, evaluate the options and then to raise their voices.” And on the most critical issues, we took a practical tip right out of Kristin’s playbook and polled the group to see where each person stood on difficult decisions.

Conversations impact negotiations. Several team members had been in communication with the customer as part of the information gathering stage. That’s good – each performing their role in finance, sales, engineering et al. To our surprise, the customer came to the table with some unfortunate misperceptions about our positions that hindered productive bargaining. We eventually realized the source of the problem -- our own team! The problem was that there had been no prior coordination of the message among our team – why we are asking these questions; what our new goals are; what market changes concern us, etc. All conversations impact negotiations, so it is imperative that all team members are on board with the message.

Know your role. It’s important to assign roles among the team, such as team leader, lead negotiator, subject matter expert, finance, scribe, coach, spokesperson, bad guy, etc. On our team the jobs of team leader and lead negotiator resided in the same person. While this might work in less complex negotiations, we lost the benefit of a team leader most of the time. All would agree that our lead negotiator did a fabulous job of following the plan at the bargaining table, but he was so drawn into the negotiations with the customer that nobody was leading the team, which needed to consider alternative strategies and concessions as the customer’s proposals took into uncharted water.

Team Leader is a critical role, and deserves its own focus. The Lead Negotiator is the face-to-face lead person heading the negotiation at the bargaining table, and must be shown respect by the team before, during and after the meeting for the other side to realize that concessions will come only from the lead negotiator. The Team Leader, on the other hand, is responsible for providing the team guidance and leadership and need not be present during face-to-face bargaining sessions.

If you have to wear more than one hat on the team, take Kristin Arnold’s simple advice: “To alleviate the confusion, let your team mates know which hat you are wearing and when you change your role.”

Final thoughts - the good, the bad, and the beautiful

The good. Negotiating as a team represents a smart, indispensable and productive way of negotiating when the right team is in place, preparation is thorough, stakeholders are on board, and team members stay in role and on message.

The bad. The many benefits to team negotiating come with tradeoffs – teams are more time intensive, ego and emotions management are critical, group-think can take over, there are more opportunities for missteps, etc.

The beautiful. Utilizing individual strengths while keeping the team engaged and organized can produce powerful results.

Learn more about teams and team facilitation from expert Kristen Arnold at For more tips on effective negotiating teams, email [email protected] and ask for our comprehensive article on “Best Negotiating Practices for Teams.” 

Negotiating Tip

Don't anchor yourself: When preparing for a negotiation, remember to develop your 'ask' or opening offer first - before your goal and least acceptable agreement or walk-away.

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