The successful team negotiation requires colleagues to define their job and stick to their own roles in preparation and performance

Think about the times during a negotiation when you wished you could retract a concession or a piece of information that "just slipped out" of a colleague's mouth.

This is common and usually a result of poor team discipline. A belief exists that there is "strength in numbers" and that having more negotiators is beneficial. But this can lead team members to under-prepare for a negotiation, resulting in an over-inflated perception of their own power.

The strength of a team is usually a result of its ability to allocate and stick to roles in preparation and performance. The common universal roles are: leader, spokesperson, figures person and observer.

The most important, surprisingly, is the observer. Their role is to monitor and take notes. They watch for non-verbal signals and listen for soft, exposing language. They are often silent and behave like a 'fly on the wall' - detached from the emotional journey of their colleagues. The observer is often the first person the leader will turn to in a time out and ask "What's happening in that room?" They can objectively inform the team so the leader can make appropriate decisions.

The leader does not engage in most of the dialogue - this is left to the spokesperson. Instead the leader will manage introductions and set the climate, then either empower or disempower the spokesperson to a set of pre-defined thresholds.

The leader's role is then one of coordination. On many occasions, leaders impulsively interrupt and make unnecessary concessions. An empowered decision-maker who is talking is very dangerous.

The figures person is the 'engine room' of the team. As proposals fly backwards and forwards, the figures person is analysing the value of tradeoffs and developing new proposals. This role is crucial in preparation as effective teams prepare with all team members present. The spokesperson role is made easier by the communication of those around them and involves delivery of pre-planned questions, answers and proposals.

A method of effective communication should be established. This is made easier with fewer numbers when team members double up on roles. The leader and spokesperson role should always be separated to control any spontaneous outbursts that release value or information that should have remained private.

It is indeed 'poetry in motion' when the productivity of a team becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts. Team roles play a vital part in the outcome of complex negotiations and should not be underestimated in today's sophisticated retail


Graham Botwright is a partner with The Gap Partnership, which specialises in commercial negotiation consultancy and development solutions.