On negotiating in teams with Will Baber

William W. Baber has combined education with business throughout his career. Currently he is teaching and researching negotiation and business models as an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Management, Kyoto University. He has also taught as a visiting professor at University of Vienna and University of Jyväskylä. His experience includes also economic development in the State of Maryland and supporting business starters in Japan. He is lead author of the textbook Practical Business Negotiation and co-editor of Transforming Japanese Business. His recent articles include Confirming the Impact of Training on Negotiators and Organizations and Transition to Digital Distribution Platforms and Business Model Evolution as well as Identifying Macro Phases Across the Negotiation Lifecycle.

Many business deals and diplomatic agreement are not negotiated by individuals but by teams. Negotiating teams are also the focus of this episode of the Podcast on Negotiation. Together with Will, we discuss advantages and disadvantages of negotiating in teams and try to pinpoint an ideal size of a negotiating team. We go through the roles that team members can assume in a negotiation and discuss how to assign them. We also expound the topic of leadership in team negotiations and discuss the role that lead negotiators play in them. Finally, we analyze the implications of negotiating in teams on the preparation and the negotiation process.


Welcome to the next episode of the Podcast on Negotiation. And today we have a very special guest and a very important topic. Our guest is professor Will Baber from Kyoto University. Will, it’s great to have you with us.

Thank you for inviting me. I’m delighted to talk about this and hear your questions and comments.

Thank you for agreeing to speak to our viewers to our listeners! And the topic will be negotiating and themes. Why we decided to choose this topic is actually quite obvious. In addition to all these complex instances when we negotiate for ourselves on behalf of ourselves, individually, many complex business, diplomatic, and political deals are negotiated in teams. And the question is, what is the optimal team setup? Does it make sense? What are advantages, disadvantages and so on and so on. And these are the aspects that we will speak about today.

Well, but before we do so, would you like would you like to say a few words about yourself?

Okay, I’ll try to be very brief, though. I teach in Kyoto University in the Graduate School of Management, and one of my topics is negotiation. This is a topic that I first came to about 2010 and was not didn’t know anything really much about it until that time and then immediately was bitten by the bug. And have been very involved with it since then. One of the first things that I did was go to the negotiation challenge in 2011 in Leipzig, and where I met Remi, where I met you and all the other good people faculty and researchers around that. So I’ve continued teaching and researching that it’s my main topic in in terms of teaching and content.

Thank you! WIll, it’s great to have you with us! Oh, I didn’t know that we’ve known each other for over 10 years now! But it’s been a great, a great journey, which I very much enjoyed, Will! So thank you for sticking around for so long!

So, when we compare individual negotiations with team negotiations, which which ones which which of them are more often do we negotiate more often individually or in teams? What do you think?

This is a good question because it brings up why we care about teams. So generally, when we’re negotiating with an organization, representing an organization, we’re mostly working in teams, when we are negotiating for ourselves inside of your own organization, it’s very often alone or one to one with you and another manager in these kinds of kind of day to day interactions that are that are negotiations but not so formal. They’re often one person and one person. Where we lined up in teams mostly is representing our organizations and in those situations will often be in two numbers like two to six or seven after that team, or, at least as far as I can observe, teams are usually not much bigger than that. And the reason is that they become cumbersome to deal with. However, we should remember that in some cultures, the size of the team that you bring, indicates the seriousness that you’re bringing, and it also is a bit competitive. So the home team might feed in people that are not really at all involved in the negotiation, just to have more people at the conference room table. So this is something we find. In some cultures, especially where I live here in East Asia. It’s not uncommon to find inflation in the number of team members.

So, representation is one of the situations when we typically add further individuals to our teams. When else does it make sense to increase the number of participants when it when it comes to negotiating in business politics, diplomacy?

A key issue here is complexity. So we need to think about complexity and specialization. So if there are technical issues, whether there are technical issues, I mean, could be around technology in a research and development negotiation, or they could be around numbers and types of equipment if it’s an arms reduction negotiation, or if it’s a trade negotiation that can be, you know, the number and volume of certain kinds of fruits and vegetables and equipment or something. So the complexity is an issue here. And in those cases, you will need logically you’ll need more specialists who are able to focus on the technical matter. And that’s, so that’s going to dictate some of it. Very often we have some standard members, especially in a business negotiation, and that might be might include a legal counsel, and maybe production managers or something like that, or product managers. Again, those are specialists. They’re there. Because they know the ins and outs of that activity.

So, if complexity calls for specialists as potential team members, it means that there is an advantage and value in increasing the team size to incorporate the knowledge that individual negotiators cannot have. But what are other advantages and maybe disadvantages of having a team instead of individual negotiators at the negotiating table.

One of the other advantages that we really have to think about that’s very important is that the team members can share their knowledge and their experience leading up to this leading up to that negotiation. So negotiation is one of those activities that we get better and better at, the more we do it. So the people with greater frequency of negotiation events in their workday or, or their lives, and inevitably, the people who are a little bit older, have more knowledge and therefore they can share more. So if you bring in those people, you’re able to improve the quality and ability of your whole team. So a team is kind of like a… creates a virtual cycle inside of itself, just by existing and if you can have the same team through multiple negotiations, I believe that you get more benefits of this sort because that team is going to be comfortable with each other. With the members comfortable with each other, they will know how they interact well, and they may develop their own chemistry and ability to organize themselves. So these are at least some of the some of the key advantages here.

Our mutual friend Peter Kesting and I, wrote a paper about routine and negotiation. So with repetitions, having the same participants on the team and negotiation issues, we develop something which we call the routine with respect to the substance and with respect to the people involved. So that’s probably is that what you what you what you meant.

Yes, that is what I meant that they also so that kind of routine among the team members is going to be very important. They’re also going to gain some specific skills. So you and I have similar feelings about negotiation that it is something that is built on multiple skills, and some of those skills can be taught and shared. And explained and improved and so on. So that’s something that is also going to improve within the team as they continue on to multiple negotiations. So they will know the mechanics of preparation. They’ll know the mechanics of really difficult kind of things like timing, you know, that’s, that’s something that is intuitive and very difficult to pin down, but there’ll become better at it. And then they will also know they’re, as you said, the routines that that they take into the interactions or the work that they do.

So now we might think, the more the better, because the more routine the more the more expertise, the more experience, right? It’s almost sounds that the negotiating teams should be infinitely large…

Definitely not!

Right, exactly. So what is there an ideal team size? When does the coordination effort become too complex?

Well, there is no clear research on this question. So we know from you know, other research that there is a for language training, for example, there is a an ideal size, which is interestingly as five people because it turns out that that is the size group that can keep a conversation going in developing longer than three or four people without getting confused and breaking up into smaller groups when you have six or seven. So unfortunately, we don’t know this about negotiation teams. There are there are huge teams that are documented. And a classic example of this would be a trade negotiations, which I already mentioned can be very, very complicated. And you would have sub teams for certain for all the imaginable categories of products and services that two countries might want to exchange. So in the case of multiple countries, organizing a large group trade agreement, each country might bring 50 or more people to the event. And then the total number of people negotiating can be very big in the conference rooms can have large numbers of people or relatively small specialist groups. But yeah, they those teams then can be 50 up to 100. Even people at the very top they’re still likely to have an overall coordinator, a Lead Negotiator, usually is how the news media refer to that person or chief negotiator who is has to have some overview and then there will be some kind of sub teams and this is obviously going to be very cumbersome. Getting down to the ideal level actually in the room on any given topic. Here we have no guidance and no data and no research. My gut feeling is that more than five or six is probably not going to add much value. And if you do have more than that you might consider taking some of the special topics and working on them separately, so that there is a smaller group talking at any given time. Now a there are, as I say, there’s no really well developed data but there are cases that are well described in in the literature and in news media and so on and so forth. And one that I really like putting in front of my students is the negotiation in which Microsoft acquired the cell phone business. of Nokia. So this is from approximately 2011 and the Nokia CEO a gentleman named Siilasmaa wrote a book about it and it’s very readable, fantastically interesting. And what they did was they after their first contact and they had some larger groups and didn’t had some difficulty communicating. They switched to a four. Get my fingers on the camera, four by four system where one of pair was the CEOs. The next pair were the legal counsel. The next pair were the finance CFO. And the next pair was I think operations generalist or something so that brought it down to a group that was very manageable. And the interactions weren’t too complicated. And the logistics of it were not too difficult. So you know, we have to also think about practicalities of moving seven or 10 or 15 people from one city to another. It gets expensive.

Yes, that’s true. So you’ve mentioned Lead Negotiators and I know that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about different positions and roles that individuals can assume within teams. Could you briefly share what kind of roles those are, what kind of positions are there in negotiating teams and maybe with a few words of explanation what those positions are responsible for.

So number one is, or at least the number one top of the list is the Lead Negotiator. And we’ve mentioned that so Lead Negotiators are responsible for basically everything and that means that they are going to they’re, they’re in charge of or they have to be ready to coordinate the preparation. So preparation phase before the actual talking and communication can be very lonely. You know, it can be weeks, months or even years something like that. And the Lead Negotiator has to have the overall sense of what do we need to know and who in my organization can find that and organize the information? Or do I have to hire a consultant or something? So the Lead Negotiator then delegates the people divides up the works, coordinates, what they’re going to do and learn and how to display it and analyze it. And additionally, the that Lead Negotiator is a little bit like a classic project manager, they have to manage the stakeholders. They have to communicate with the Final Decision Makers. They may have a public face they may be required to deal with the with the press or something like that public media they may be working on, they will have to understand special issues. Like you know, what are the badness involved, what is for our side and for the other side, they may coordinate or they should coordinate the image management and even that is likely to happen on the level of the organization, the level of the team and the individual level and striking the right image at the right time. These are responsibilities of the Lead Negotiator. So that’s a lot.

That’s, a lot I’m sure he or she needs a lot more help from other roles, I suppose. Right?

I’ll drop some of those in the chat line as just so there’s a little document about it. This is one of the things that I like about online conversations and podcasts if you can use the chat line to reinforce what you’re saying. So, in this list is Spokesperson so the one of the things that the Lead Negotiator might easily delegate is the actual direct communication in the meetings with the other parties. So the Lead Negotiator doesn’t actually have to say and do everything. They can hand the job to one person who becomes the primary speaker and therefore proposes things and reacts to offers from the other side. So the Spokesperson should be able to communicate well. Face to face should be able to improvise and should not be uncomfortable with sudden new information in this sort of thing. And the Spokesperson has the… Using a Spokesperson has the advantage that there is no cross talk or confusion or contradiction happening inside the team. So it’s a question of, you know, it’s partly a question of discipline. These specialists will not speak directly to the other side. It all goes through the Spokesperson and I’ve seen this done in classrooms and at The Negotiation Challenge. And some of those teams have won! And that is because they used the Spokesperson to keep a very clear style of communication and have no contradictions or confusion. That’s the Spokesperson then.

The other one that we’ve already mentioned then are specialists and Team Members. So I usually think of Team Members as being a specialist like you’ll have your legal specialist or the finance person or a technical person, an IT person or electronics person, whatever. But they could also be a generalist who’s very good at operations of the company or good at bringing together different parts of the negotiation. So Team Members could be specialists or they could be generalists. There’s a team who is populating the table. So you know, we might have your Lead Negotiator in the room, maybe using a Spokesperson and a couple of 234 Team Members specialist generalists there. And that’s kind of what we think of as the the basic team. But there’s more. There’s more. There’s more. Yeah. So the next one that I’ve already mentioned is the Final Decision Maker, which could be one person or a group of people and the Final Decision Maker is very often or maybe usually not in the negotiations unless sometimes they do come in with the interesting results. So the Final Decision Maker is usually the strategic level person above the Lead Negotiator in the organization, who has the authority and the right to say yes or no, ultimately, and so typically, in a large organization, it’ll be the CEO and in a small or smaller organization that can be further down the chain of command. And in the case of in many cases, it will be more than one person. It could be the whole board of directors. If it’s a labor management negotiation, then the whole union is the Final Decision Maker. So you know that can mean a body of some 1000s of people that will vote to agree or not agree with the with what the Lead Negotiator brings to them. So this Final Decision Maker is very interesting. That’s a high power position. Usually does not participate directly in the talks. And we have some examples of big failures when they do sometimes egos become important or you know, they want to improve the deal at the last minute and everything fails, or they maybe make a big mistake. And a classic example of this might be the Hewlett Packard acquisition. of autonomy, which was 2011 or services. That final deal in agreement was done. Between the to the purchasing CEO and the buying and the selling CEO. The purchaser was Leo Apotheker, formerly of SAP, and it was done in a boutique hotel in the countryside in France. And the selling side was able to get extremely good deal which fell apart ultimately was a big catastrophe for HP. So, Final Decision Makers have a very important role in final agreement and ultimately ratifying usually they’re not directly involved in default.

So, with all these roles that you mentioned, when you for example, send your teams to negotiation competitions, which are typically conducted in in teams and between teams, not individuals, how do you assign assign these roles to individual negotiators? Is there a procedure, is there an algorithm that assesses the prerequisites that a person needs to fulfill in order to be suitable for a particular role? How does it work?

Well, this is a really nice question and definitely something to to dig into. Which is a way of saying that I don’t have an answer for it. And I love the idea of being able to figure out a sensible algorithm for it. So we have to think of it. Think of a couple of things here though, in most organizations are not sophisticated about negotiating. And as your previous guest on the podcast, Francesco Marchi said, you there’s very few that are mature in their capacity and their ability to negotiate well and retain the skills and repeat and get good results. So unfortunately, in my experience.  It would be quite nice to look into other cases for this.

The Lead Negotiator very often has no say in the team. It’s just given to them ad hoc by the boss and the boss says, go do this and take, take Sally and Fred with you and do it. And the boss doesn’t know much about how it’s going to be done. So there you are. You’re responsible and you’ve got Fred, who’s a nice guy but doesn’t have all the skills you want and you’ve got Sally and what are you going to do? So, in the ideal situation, the Lead Negotiator is aware of who is capable in the organization and has an understanding of where the skills are and who’s got what abilities and knows those people. Maybe has worked with them before. So that Lead Negotiator also, ideally, has the freedom to go and select a team and this would be the best situation. Then they could decide based on some personality issues, skills and appropriate content background and that would, we can in deciding who should go on to a team.

The Lead Negotiator would ideally also be able to think about an easy way to think about those personalities. So one of the things that I do with teach my students is the comes from Leigh Thompson’s book The Mind and Heart of a Negotiator. And she proposes an “emotional style” based on a questionnaire that evaluates you based on your rationality, positiveness and negativeness. All three of those are quite important aspects of your personality that you ideally can switch on and off at the right time. So “negative” is not a bad thing. In that scheme, it it’s the ability to be able to say no and to make fine adjustments and do some distributive thinking. And, you know, we don’t always want to be positive all the time that can lead us into happy mistakes. So this is a kind of heuristic tool that I teach my students about teams and team management, and one that they can become in, you know, over a few sessions they can become pretty comfortable with. So after I introduce it to them, you figure out, assess yourself and try to work to your strengths and be aware of when you might make mistakes and now, think about your Team Members left and right of you. And then ultimately, what is your feeling about the person on the other side of the table on this kind of scheme? So that’s part of team management, that, you know, ideally, we can think about, we know the styles and we can assess them, of your teammates. And then also the people across the table from you. So yeah, this definitely means that the good negotiator has a lot of different skills and tools and gets better and better at them.

I was wondering, what’s your opinion on the connection between the assignment of roles and the team performance? So let me give you a little bit more of a background to what I mean. We’ve noticed during The Negotiation Challenge, our negotiation competitions, that teams that typically perform well cover a wide spectrum of negotiations, negotiation traits. So for example, there’s a fair share of empathy that must be present at the table, there is a fair deal of analytics that must be that must be covered, and there is also a fair deal of eloquence, communication/rhetorical skills has to be represented. First of all, how do you see this and what would be the connection between the skills and roles that we’ve just discussed.

So this is this is quite a good question. So in the end, the a good Lead Negotiator has all of this. So they’ve got the right combination of the of the three that you mentioned. And they also have some of the Big Five personality traits. Now we talk about the six the HEXACO and one of them is you know openness and curiosity. And your Lead Negotiator needs to have as much of all of these as possible. The good negotiators generally willing to say a lot and have a lot of curiosity. And they also have the rhetorical ability, rhetorical, meaning the speaking ability, and motivation to ask question after question after question after question. So this, I’m convinced is this is also part of personality, and unfortunately, I don’t have this myself as much as I would like to. The negotiators that I’ve seen, whether students or in real life, the ones who are following up with another question and another question and another question, are the ones who really develop the information and therefore they develop the opportunities to find solutions, and to create new value and bring more into the negotiation. So if there was any one thing that I would want, most of all it would be that rhetorical ability to ask narrow questions at the right time and open questions at the right time, and to continually bring that information out.

So let us continue with practicing asking questions. Let’s pick a little bit on the role of the of the Lead Negotiator, which we’ve mentioned quite extensively. Lead Negotiator does not only have the responsibility for leading the negotiation itself, but she also has to lead her team and that’s negotiating on the same side of the negotiation table. How does leadership work in negotiating teams?

Leadership here has to work. The Lead Negotiator should be able to do all or almost all of these many, many tasks but has to at least know that they exist and what they are. But the Lead Negotiator can delegate as much as they quite a lot, nearly all of it to the people on the team, if they have the skills. And if there’s time you know, the Lead Negotiator can train them appropriately. So, this means that the Lead Negotiator can take some of the leadership styles that we know about from leadership research, and that means they can take a servant leadership point of view, where they are supporting the team by taking away the obstacles that the team might face. They can take on a transformative leader kind of approach where they are nurturing and building up the Team Members so that they become better and more capable and so on and so forth. And other leadership approaches. So when we were speaking before the podcast you mentioned Jeswald Salacuse’s book. The leader as negotiator. Is that the right title?

“Real leaders negotiate”

Yes, “Real leaders negotiate”. So leaders are nearly constantly in some kind of negotiation with their Team Members and their superiors and so on. But actual negotiators can take on this style of leadership that suits that person or suits the team.

Thank you all for sharing this! I was wondering also about the implications of negotiating in teams in different stages of the negotiation process. So let’s pick on two because we’re probably won’t have enough time to discuss all of these stages. Let’s talk about preparation and the actual information exchange, negotiations. So what is easier, what is harder? What sort of implications of having a team on in a negotiation rather than individual negotiators?

Good question! And important thing to think about during the preparation phase. And really, I think about two preparation phases. One is the big picture phase that’s very early on where you’re thinking about strategic issues and the whole value chain and the second preparation phase is when you’re designing the Deal, deal design, right? So and that’s closer to the actual time of interacting. So in that first, early negotiation, big picture architecture, strategic thinking, the Lead Negotiator, if they have the resources, if it’s a big organization, and there’s time and money, you know, they can, they can hire a whole library full of researchers and they can get immense amount of detail and there if they may have time to, to go very deep into technical issues or into cast calendars out into the distant future for what should be done. When and so on and so forth. So, if we think about kind of the biggest negotiations I think of as trade negotiations between countries, there would be a year of advanced time and if there are long delays, there could be another year. And there would be a lot of resources available from a government concerned about how they’re going to have their, what their balance of trade will look like for the coming decade or so they’re going to assign lots of staff usually, and they will be high skilled people, you’ll have economists and all kinds of specialists available to you. So at that point, in those situations, the team that is not going to go to the negotiation, but is still part of the research team and the big team in general. That can be a very big group and they can be very active and they can generate a huge amount of knowledge. So having a large team at that time, makes a lot of sense. When you get to the deal design phase and you’re crafting packages of offers, and you’re considering the trade-offs that you’re willing to give and what kind of bargaining chips you might create in advance that you can give away. In this sort of thing, probably there you need a smaller group of people that are more focused and that can communicate more easily. So at that point, having 100 people would be a cumbersome problem. Having 5, 10, 15 or 20 might be much much more practical and sensible. Then when you go to the to the actual interacting with the counterparties and you’re exchanging information we’d like to think of this as face to face at a table but very often Of course it’s going by your messaging and your email and short phone calls and so on. You know when that starts, then we’re down to the kind of team that we talked about earlier in the podcast where three to seven might be somewhere in the ideal, depending on complexity and the issues and so on.

So, if I may attempt to summarize. What I’ve learned today is that negotiating in teams probably increases the complexity of the preparation and coordination process, before the negotiation, but at the same time, it makes it easier during the process in terms of, identifying value generating options and/or using the expertise that is necessary at the right time, streamlining the negotiation process, and crafting wiser agreements. What is your opinion about the impact of negotiating and teams on the process and the outcome?

I think if we have a team we’re likely to be able to avoid mistakes. So you know, everybody makes mistakes. And if it is a, an important strategic negotiation that can be catastrophic. So, you know, fundamentally the mistakes were made in the Hewlett Packard autonomy negotiation. And, frankly, we can we can I have kind of a hobby of looking through the news media for negotiation there. There’s a lot of them that are on display. And if you have a team that knows how to work together, and then you have redundancy so that if somebody makes a mistake, somebody can help them correct it. And you have redundancy of checking and making sure that the documents are in order and that the knowledge is in order and so on. You know what one of the in the business world one of the classic problems is that the negotiators have an agreement and they put it on paper, and they take it to their legal counsel to finalize, and the legal counsel just puts in whatever they feel like and if it’s not checked and double checked by the team, it can lead to broken relationship and bad agreements and bad surprises if nobody noticed it. So teams can… this is one of the big benefits of teams is that you know, two heads are better than one, sometimes four or five heads are better than that, because of the ability to what’s the right word redundancy and resilience in in the interaction.

Thank you all for sharing all this! My last question in all our episodes has always been about great negotiators. I do realize that all these great negotiators, attained their greatness, that we systematically attach to their names because of many people that supported them behind the scenes in their negotiation teams. But when you think about great negotiators, who comes to your mind?

This is a difficult question. So one of my answers to this would be from the world of politics would be the President Lyndon Johnson, who was president in the United States before Richard Nixon.  Lyndon Johnson was very famous for deeply understanding the motivations of his counterparties. And he could play on their fears and their concerns about their legacy. He could play on technical issues around their constituents and their voters. And this sort of thing. But not only that, Johnson was well known for using all kinds of, of not very nice and friendly tricks and stratagems and so on. He would, you know, he was known to physically put people in an uncomfortable chair in his office and he was known to, to approach people in the in the restroom, you know, uncomfortable situations like this. And he was a physically big person, he would back them into a corner. So what I’m saying here is that this individual, President Johnson was a very successful negotiator. And he definitely accomplished some good important things. For the United States. The civil rights legislation, a lot of that came through him because of him. But he was not a person that I would admire or like to be with.

So in that case, he’s very famous and was very successful, but I wouldn’t want to be around him and I do not use his approaches.

In the business world my example is definitely not Steve Jobs. He is quite famous and was quite successful. And he used approaches and behaviors that I would reject. I would never do.

So the negotiators that I really admire are ones, who are unfortunately not famous, that I know from seeing them or from interviewing them. And one of these was one of my first bosses when I was working after university. He was a fantastic listener. He had the empathy. He had the rhetorical ability to get information and develop information. And create mutual solutions, even in situations where the company was struggling to make money or where his partner who was a totally different personality, was pressuring him, you know, maybe literally in the, you know, on the telephone, you he did very well in all these really challenging situations.

And another one that I like, respect very much is, is an older gentleman that I’ve interviewed a number of times and brought to my classrooms, who works for Asian Development Bank and for JICA and some other development organizations. And he has an immensely marvelous ability to present himself in a non threatening and constructive way. Even in quite difficult situations when he was, for example, when he was working in, in Afghanistan, and there were some very serious threats around him and to his to his office and so on. But he was still able to find the common ground and get the conversations going and keep them going. So yeah, these are the people in the skills that I really respect.

Will, thank you so much for your time! It was great to have you with us! I’ve greatly enjoyed our conversation, and I’m 100% sure that I was not the last time. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us!

Negotiating and teams helps if we know how to manage how to manage them. This was an episode on managing negotiate negotiation teams with Wilbur well. Thank you. It was great to have you with us!

Thank you really enjoyed it. Very good at delivering the questions and developing the information. Thanks!

You’re very welcome! And until next time on the Podcast on Negotiation. Thank you so much!

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