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Two Heads Are Better than One: Team
Negotiations in Research and in
David F. Sally, Kathleen M. O’Connor & Ian Lynam
Editors’ Note: This chapter analyzes the research on what individuals accomplish, when compared to teams in which the members have differentiated functions. Not surprisingly, the teams turn out to be able to handle more information more accurately more of the time. But of course, that’s not the whole story. The authors, who include two advisors to professional sports teams, use examples from professional sports to show where you might want a team to negotiate, and where it makes sense to use an individual.
From a supplier negotiating terms with a national retailer to pairs of spouses bargaining with sellers over house prices, teams very often turn up to negotiate. And research finds that, whether this decision is deliberate or arrived at by default, sending a team can pay off. In fact, studies show that negotiating teams enjoy clear advantages when compared to solo negotiators (Thompson, Peterson and Brodt 1996; O’Connor 1997). When at least one party at the table is a team, for instance, both sides reach better quality deals than are reached between solos. A deeper dive into process reveals why this is the case. Teams of negotiators exchange relatively more information across the table compared to solos, and this may explain why teams are relatively better at identifying mutually beneficial tradeoffs across issues. Significantly, too, teams are relatively more likely to recognize poor deals and walk away from the negotiation rather than accept them (Cohen, Leonardelli and Thompson 2014). On a range of dimensions, then, negotiations are better left to teams than to solo bargainers.
As beneficial as it can be to negotiate in this mode, teams too often fall short of their potential. For a host of reasons—from inability to exploit their numerical advantage to a lack of coordination—some teams miss the mark. In this chapter we take real-world examples of negotiating teams, draw on the scientific literature to explain why the team was effective or not, and then make recommendations for practitioners who are looking to improve their team performance. Given the expertise of our author team, we focus our examples on sports negotiations, and in particular, football negotiation (soccer, to our American readers). When one considers that the global market for sports—including revenues from tickets, media rights, sponsorships, equipment and fitness spending, for example—was estimated to reach $700 billion annually, or 1% of global GDP, in 2014 (A.T. Kearney 2014: sports industry growing faster than GDP), these negotiations are important in the global economy.
What we have not yet said is that sending a team rather than a solo to conduct the negotiation is more expensive, as multiple people are being paid to do what one person could conceivably handle. In any decision to employ a negotiating team instead of a single bargainer, these costs must be weighed against the possible benefits. In this chapter we hope to make a persuasive case for bearing the cost of sending in a team, and we provide a bit of assistance to those looking to optimize team performance. To do that, we review two advantages that teams have over solos, and we also describe two rather common problems that can interfere with the performance of negotiating teams. For the latter, we offer practical advice for overcoming these obstacles.
Negotiating in Teams: What to Do
Divide and Conquer
While a young player’s agent and a club’s CEO are at an impasse over the player’s value, the legendary and long-
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