Category: Role Play

Communicating within cross-functional teams

Communicating within cross-functional teams

Very rarely is one person alone brilliant at many things. Most likely we have one thing that we possibly are brilliant at, a few things we are good at and the rest we wouldn’t offer our services for.

Businesses have always employed diverse groups of people with different skillsets to work as a team. Multiple brains are better than one or none of us is as smart as ALL of us, as the adage goes.

The problem with this team set up is that each person with her different skillset has a completely different idea / perspective / driver to the other and this can cause huge conflict in the workplace.

Retail is a great example of a fast evolving business segment where a diverse group of people work together on large scale projects. Not only does e-commerce mix with bricks and mortar retail, we now have conversation commerce and experiential digital products in store offering the customer exciting new brand experiences.

This means that a hugely diverse range of people, with different skills sets and ways of working are forced to work together. Their unique goal is to create one holistic and continuous brand experience across all touch points. Imagine meeting rooms with creative director, technical director, store development director, ecommerce director, head of social and so on…. all in one room with different priorities and different perspectives.

‘It needs to feel more sophisticated and the interaction needs to be more beautiful…’ Creative Director

‘It needs to function first and that’s the most important thing here, a bit of styling can be done at the end…’ Technical Director

‘Social media is the no.1 way we are communicating these days so I need the social media feed at the top so people can see it…’ Head of Social 

‘That’s not how I want to lay out the page…’ Creative Director 

The key to working in a diverse team is compromise and negotiation, however people just don’t like to compromise, especially when they have strong ideas and think they are right. Compromising and negotiating are important life skills. Without compromise it is very difficult to work together successfully and harmoniously. Don’t we all want a harmonious, relaxed working environment? 


A willingness to compromise is a sign of great conviction and shouldn’t be seen as weakness. All you’ve got to do is give a little to get something that you want in return. 

Can you remember a time when you didn’t want to compromise and this made things worse? Understanding each other’s perspectives is key and often our ego prevents us from seeing the merits of somebody else’s case. The best way to understand someone else’s point of view is by asking open-ended questions and by truly LISTENING to the answers. Of course we all feel a variety of emotions – frustration, anger etc – in the workplace. How we manage our emotions is the important part. Emotional discipline in other words.

  • Why do you feel like this?
  • How can we find a way that we are both happy with?
  • Can you explain your thinking a bit more?
  • What can I do to help you understand my perspective better?
  • How can we come to a solution which works for both of us?


An ability to negotiate means that you have more chance of getting what you want even if it’s not 100%. Negotiation is a collaboration where both parties are winners. 

  • Let people tell their side of the story
  • Create rapport with the person as people are easily influenced by people they like
  • Explain the downfalls if the other person doesn’t take your ideas on board
  • Think Win Win as the best outcome
  • Ask what you can do for the other person
  • Manage your own emotions

 If you are still not getting anywhere ask for a demonstration or visit their side of the office, build rapport and have a really open workshop together.

Diverse teams of specialists are put together to create brilliant outcomes. Try and make the process easier for yourself by learning the art of compromise and negotiation and get great results for everyone.

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Read our other blog posts discussing Communication Skills

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

role play effectively

Role Play – Learn How to Role Play Effectively

Role play exercises are commonly used as part of recruitment processes, assessment centres and leadership development programs, usually centering around a relevant yet fictional case study. The aim of using role play is generally to see how you manage people, behaviours and how effectively you communicate and engage with somebody else – be they a line manager, peer, direct report, potential customer…

Often as a candidate, you are told the character you will be role playing opposite, say the CEO of a prospective client firm, is actually a professional actor. In the case of development and leadership training programs, the actor may also facilitate the session and offer time outs where needed and provide feedback after the session. But more usually you will find that there are other observers, managers and facilitators in the room whose job is to observe and record everything that goes on in the role play meeting. This is especially the case where recruitment and assessment are concerned.

Having been the role player over 1000 times and also assessor, facilitator, program designer on countless occasions, I thought I would share some tips on how to role play effectively.

1. Effective Introduction

Do relax, smile, shake hands etc. or whatever you would do in a normal meeting. Do listen from the outset to the character you are meeting. How is their energy today? What kind of mood are they in? What is it that they need? Adopt an open, inquisitive perspective from the outset.

2. Rapport & Relationship

Building strong relationships is often cited as one of the most fundamental aspects of business. The first meeting with a prospective client or even regular catch up with a team member are all opportunities to strengthen that bond. So don’t focus solely on “the issue”, whatever that may be. Take an interest in the person sat opposite you – even if you think you know them well, who are they today, right at this moment? This is just as relevant if having a difficult conversation.

Many people in role play exercises simply offer a cursory greeting, pay no attention and then jump into what they think the case study wants them to achieve. That frankly is the difference between a leader and manager. The skill we look for in role play exercises is building rapport throughout the conversation, whilst staying on point re: whatever needs to be discussed. Too many people try “How was your flight?” then move straight into whatever they want.

3. Shared Agenda

If you have called the meeting, you will obviously have points to address and/or a message to deliver. That’s great. But do not forget to ask for the other person’s input. And crucially this should be done at the beginning of the meeting. Scribble down the salient points that you both want to cover. Too many times, I have seen people in situations where they fail to do this and launch into their own agenda, ignoring and alienating the needs of the other. It’s not rocket science so remember to take a moment to invite their perspective.

4. Listen & Pause

Listening effectively is really easy as you simply place all your focus on to the other person. Simple right? Why then do the majority of people in role play exercises fail to listen adequately? And I’m talking about senior partners in law firms and professional services as well as C-level directors..! It seems therefore that listening is a skill we can consciously develop. As actors we are screwed if we stop genuinely listening on stage. The trick is to park our inner monologue and focus on not only what is being said, but how it is being said.

Similarly don’t be afraid of pauses in the role play. A lengthy pause is often the moment the other person is really thinking hard about what you just said so allow them the space to think. Chances are that pause is where a change of thinking will actually occur so the last thing you want to do is break it.

5. Energy Matching

We do this unconsciously all the time. We see a friend who we had, until seeing them slumped at the bar, figured would be in their usual jocular mood. We instantly make an adjustment and decide to not go for the hi-five (or whatever). The trick is to do this consciously. So, you’re meeting a new client for the first time and have no idea what they are like. If you find they are chatty and personable, then mirror that relaxed energy. Conversely if they are brash and impatient, then cut to the quick. The point is to be able to flex your own style in the moment and to be aware of this – improvisation in other words.

6. Questioning

Learn the difference between open, closed, multiple and leading questions. So many people ask a series of closed and lengthy, ineffective multiple questions in trying to get to dialogue in role play. It’s really much easier than that. Ask a short, pithy open question when you need to unearth information or fully understand the other person’s perspective. Closed questions work for clarifying – “Was it red or black..?” And leading questions – “Well I really don’t think that they offer anything of value, wouldn’t you say?”

7. Agree Next Steps

When all perspectives have been shared and discussed, perhaps you’ve been able to negotiate where possible and reach agreed next steps. Do ensure that next steps have actually been mutually agreed upon by checking in with the other person. A common role play mistake is to assume buy-in and launch into “Well that’s all settled then…” mindset when actually things have not been agreed… because you didn’t listen…. because there was no trust or rapport…!!

What works well here is being crystal clear about ownership and who is tasked to do what, next. Lead by example and take ownership of relevant points that you need to in the role play.

8. Summarise & Close

Offering a summary of what has been discussed, any changes made and next steps agreed on allows everyone to take stock and helps to articulate what progress has been made over the last 30 minutes or whatever.

Role play can be strange and seem artificial with observers in the room, watching your every move. It can also illuminate habits, typical behaviour and communication approach. Invariably a role play with an experienced actor/trainer will result in very useful and relevant feedback which is priceless.

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication

Role play mediation training

Role Play for Effective Mediation Training

Using role play is an innovative means of training in many areas of business and particularly relevant for those interested in mediation.

Dynamic Presenting ran a sell out workshop on improvisation skills for qualified mediators. The event was organised in conjunction with CIArb – Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and took place at the offices of magic circle law firm Allen & Overy. Sartaj Garewal MCIArb and elite mediator Amanda Bucklow ran a very interactive, high impact session allowing delegates to experience the value of improvisation when the stakes are high. Role play in other words.

Keynote speakers included The Honourable Mr Justice Ramsey and Karl Mackie. The day involved various break out sessions addressing a wide range of relevant topics from ‘The Myth of Reality Testing’ to ‘Improvisation Skills for Mediators.’

Forum Theatre

The event began with a high impact forum theatre intervention where the audience of 50 or so invited delegates watched actors role playing a typical mediation scenario. The scenario was challenging and realistic and depicted two parties in conflict where the mediator (played by an actor) loses control of initial proceedings and the whole affair turned into a slanging match.

The scene lasted just a few minutes and was then re-run from the top, only this time the watching delegates were instructed to stop the action whenever the actor role playing the mediator character said or did anything they felt could be more effective. The actors would role play moments as advised with new direction and lines from the audience which in turn affected the behaviour and actions of the two parties in conflict, resulting in a completely different and far more effective outcome. All with a good deal of laughing and debating along the way..!

Experiential Training Works…!

With a keen, energetic audience, experiential training interventions such as forum theatre and role play can work wonders and all with absolutely no powerpoint slides or flip charts in sight…!!

Sartaj Garewal is the founder of Dynamic Presenting – a creative, leadership development consultancy, adapting theatre training to create leadership programs for business.

Dynamic Presenting – Enabling Powerful Communication