Improving Executive Team Performance

Team negotiating - A horse of a different color - Six steps to improving your team's performance

One of the most important, yet underdeveloped, responsibilities of an executive team is negotiation. It is surprising how much time is actually spent persuading and influencing each other and others on major executive decisions. While the individual team members are generally highly knowledgeable about the company's technical issues, and individuals may be good intuitive negotiators, as a team they often fall short. By following the six recommendations below, an executive team can go from an average negotiation team one to a well-oiled machine.

1. Get the team trained in the fundamentals. Many of you may have learned first to negotiate in a haggling fashion -- you start high, I start low and we meet in the middle. Later, you may have been exposed to some form of a "win-win" approach. Unfortunately, individuals on a team may have totally different definitions of negotiating well. Have the team briefed on negotiation fundamentals. Having a common language will increase efficiency and effectiveness. Make sure that whatever system you utilize emphasizes interests: the needs, desires, wants and fears of the various parties. When many levels are involved, focusing on specific demands is a trap that leads to confrontation rather than collaboration. Emphasizing interests will help parties move towards mutually satisfactory

2. Standardize preparation. Related to the training is creating a template and mindset for preparing and reviewing negotiations. Before a major negotiation, the individuals involved should present the major interests as stated above. Next, start generating creative options to meet those interests. Rather than focusing on the single right answer, brainstorm broadly to come up with solutions that meet a variety of needs. Third, think about the walk-away alternatives. If there is no agreement, what will the parties do?

3. Create clear goals and parameters. Every team member has a duty to push hard on these issues. The only way any individual or any team will be successful is if they know what the bottom line objectives are. Checking your assumptions of what success will look like in negotiation is critical. Also, the individuals heading off to a negotiation need to know the level of authority and parameters they can operate within. The biggest nightmare is when you've made an agreement that your executive team members criticize as something you weren't supposed to do.

4. Increase the learning curve. After major negotiations, spend time as a team making enhancements. For more minor situations, review on your own or with a colleague or friend. See your team members as coaches. Ask yourselves these two basic questions: a. What worked well? b. What might we have done differently? The purpose is to continually learn and get better. Negotiation provides a wonderful opportunity. Because you negotiate all the time, you have lots of real-time data to reflect upon to continually improve. But improvement doesn't happen automatically. It requires discipline, a team culture and individual mindsets for doing so.

5. Enhance the comfort level within the team. The more relaxed a team is the better it will perform. Before a major negotiation, give the negotiators a chance to kick back and rest as much as possible. Doing "dry-runs" can simulate the real thing so the negotiators will be ready for anything. Role-play your counterparts so your team will be better prepared to respond to the other side. Ask the negotiators what they need to be comfortable and confident going into a negotiation.

6. Negotiate inside out. The bottom line is that an executive team that does not negotiate well internally will run into huge problems with external negotiations. For example, if the executive team cannot agree on its growth strategy, the organization may grind to a halt or play out different individual's strategies rather than a consensus. The more your own house is in order, the better you can deal with outsiders. Conflict here is a chance to work them through to gain the hidden opportunities and values that exist. Too often executive teams avoid conflict for the sake of superficial harmony.

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