Michele Williams photo
February 1, 2018
Lesanne B. Fliehler

Not all teams are successful—it takes good communication, skill diversity, and trust.

Many courses taught in the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business stress teamwork and its importance in business relationships. When Assistant Professor Michele Williams teaches the Dynamics of Negotiations course, she brings over 15 years of research into her classrooms.

Williams conducts research on trust and relationships, the role gender plays in team interactions and negotiations, and how relationships are critical to the formation of teams as they prepare to launch a business. Her research passion began as an undergraduate when she was studying psychology at Johns Hopkins University.

As a psychology major, she participated in an internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she sat in on decision-making team meetings where the team discussed individual patient treatment plans. Team members included people with different kinds of knowledge: nurses who knew the patient well because of daily interaction, specialty doctors, and physical therapists.

“I was excited to see all my psychology knowledge in action and to see how teams work in real life,” said Williams, the John L. Miclot Faculty Fellow in Entrepreneurship.

“The team members all had the exact same goal—to heal the patient—but there was an incredible amount of conflict and tension during the meetings,” she said. “I knew there was a lot more to the process than meets the eye, so I began to examine how teams build trust in the face of different kinds of threats, such as status, role, and gender.”

When she teaches the Dynamics of Negotiation course to undergraduates and Master of Business Administration students, the class will discuss gender styles in negotiations and how that may affect the process.

“I teach this not because it is good for women, but because it is good for organizations. Whether you are a man or a woman, you are going to have to work with different people. It’s important to learn how to support and mentor people in the most appropriate ways so that all their skills are brought to the team,” she said.

Williams also shares her knowledge with teams that are part of the Iowa Startup Games as a coach and a speaker. This John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center competition brings together UI students who pitch their business startup ideas and, in a team with peers, spend a weekend working to bring the idea into reality.

“When I work with these teams, I might give a lecture about listening. It’s those interpersonal skills that allow people to basically be able to negotiate with their team members, their mentors, or their funders,” she said.

“Many times when we look at entrepreneurship, we’re focusing on marketing, business development, business planning, and design. All of those are critical, but if you can’t keep your team together, you won’t have a successful company.”