“U.S. Defense Taskforce,” a newly released negotiation simulation from the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP), explores group decision-making processes in a multi-party negotiation. Lisa Dicker ’17 and Kathleen Kelly ’17 of the Harvard Law School Negotiators wrote this fast-paced simulation under the supervision of Sara del Nido Budish ‘13, HNMCP Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law.
The case opens when the zombie apocalypse has begun. Participants are part of a small committee in the U.S. Department of State entrusted to select the four people who will lead the effort in preparing for, surviving, and defeating the zombies. The Director of the Department of State is scheduled to hold a press conference to tell the American public who their leaders will be, and the participants’ committee has only 20 minutes to come to a unanimous decision and give the Director the four names.
U.S. Defense Taskforce emphasizes two crucial elements of multi-party negotiations: criteria and group process. First, the element of criteria is placed at the forefront of the case pedagogy. Participants have a list of seven candidates’ biographies, detailing each candidate’s age, life accomplishments, and unique qualities. Their committee’s deliberation process, as well as the debrief afterwards, challenges the participants to think through their reasons for choosing one candidate over another and what their criteria was (or wasn’t) for determining who should lead the United States.
Second, the simulation challenges participants to reflect on group process more broadly. They plunge into a high-stakes conversation without being provided any structure, agenda, or distinct roles on the committee. Their decisions about whether or not to divide roles amongst their group, who is given speaking time over others, and what they would do if time expires before they reach a decision are all representative of the kinds of questions that arise in all sorts of group decision-making processes.
This simulation can be completed in 1 hour, including setup and a debrief based off of a set of questions provided in the teaching note. Participants can be divided into groups of 6 to 8, but it is possible to run the simulation with groups of a different size. Many groups can participate in the simulation at the same time, provided that the groups come together for the debrief after their 20 minutes of negotiating.
To purchase the “U.S. Defense Taskforce,” please visit the HLS Case Studies website.