Middle East

Lessons from the Iran Negotiations

Most of my work is with groups making decisions. Typically those are strategy decisions being made in uncertainty.

This week I was struck by the reporting of what resulted in a tentative nuclear deal between the rest of the world. It was painful, wrenching, intense, and eventually somewhat successful. In the months ahead more of the same will be necessary to put something in writing.

By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the story I read from the New York Times:

There were several areas where pragmatists who deal with or participate in group dynamics and the best practices of decision-making could take lessons:

The resolution of the two sides to stay engaged was key. Both sides need a deal. Iran wants to relieve the oppressive burden of sanctions. The implications of an ability to produce nuclear weapons by a Shiite nation has driven fear to the top of the scale for Mideast nations, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator, used a white board to track agreements and record problems and hurdles to overcome. Seems old school but an ability to put big print in front of groups is where I live. It’s essential. It also points up the need for somebody to be organized, to hold feet to fires, and to not let go until solutions emerge. One uses what works. In Sherman’s case it was brilliant. A failure to keep the group accountable would have led to failure.

The negotiation group also realized that artificial deadlines are a detriment to good decisions. The end of March deadline came from the Obama administration. The French pushed back. The wrangling will go on the months ahead but the spirit of the deal is there and came a bit after the imposed deadline.

It’s much the same when I work with strategy teams. In a couple of weeks one of my clients has an issue involving systemic risk that will involve painful and contentious discussions that have a long history in their region and organization. While I think we’ve set aside enough time, my goal is to have the big pieces of an agreement in place and let the word-smithing discussions to take place after contemplation. Important decisions can always benefit from a bit more time for consideration.

Learn what you can from Lausanne. Keep engaged. Keep organized. Have a driver in place that won’t lift eyes from the road to the goal. Work steadily and painfully, if necessary, toward agreement. Get creative. Don’t hesitate to extend deadlines when the goal is in sight.