Much of our work today depends on our ability to influence the groups of people we lead or work with on projects. Groups are made up of many personalities, mindsets, motives and agendas, some explicit and some hidden, so having a specific strategy to influence teams can mean the difference between success and failure.
To successfully lead a group or team, consider the following pros and cons. These tips will help you be an effective influencer and prepare for the unique challenges you’re likely to experience when trying to influence teams and groups.
Mentally separate the group. Prior knowledge is essential for efficient planning, and to influence the people in the group, you need to address each of them before the meeting takes place. Think of the group as a collection of people, each of whom has opinions and issues that you must try to understand in order to influence them. Put yourself in each team member’s shoes and make some assumptions about what her main concerns might be so she can create a strategy for those people she will need to influence. For example, when observing people in a work team, you might think:
If I were ___, what would worry me the most?
What would ___’s response be to my efforts to influence the group?
If I were ___, how would I respond to “me”?
How does ___ feel that he has to win and lose?
Form a common ground coalition. Again, before the group meets, reach out to those you have identified as key stakeholders and listen to their concerns. Review the assumptions you have made. Ask questions to find out the main concerns of the stakeholders, how each sees the problems, and where you might experience resistance.
Please consider some disclosure of your own if you feel it is appropriate, such as similar situations you may have been in or ways you feel you can identify with a key member’s position.
Once you’ve established a relationship with these key people, set your focus and you’ll be prepared to capitalize on common issues when the full group comes together. You can open the meeting by saying something like, “I know none of us in this room are really welcoming change right now. We all have something to lose from this proposal, but we all have something to gain. I think we can work together to make that gain something that makes up for the loss.”
Make the desired results clear. As early as the group’s first meeting, let them know what you hope the team will accomplish. Create a vision for the group by presenting a clear picture of future success; this can play a key role in your ability to influence them. For example, you might say, “What I can see us doing today is come up with a strategy that we can all accept and achieve.” Or “I can see us looking back on this meeting a year from now and saying that’s when we really turned things around.”
Provide justification for your ideas. Backing up your arguments with facts shows that you have done your “homework” and provides a good balance to your vision. Remember, people can be convinced by rational reasoning, but they will be more likely to move to action when you supplement rationality with arguments based on emotion.
Ask open ended and focused questions. Your goal should be inclusion and building rapport with all group members. Without being passive or giving too much ground, ask how, what, where, and why questions that dig deeper, focusing on a particular theme or statement. For example:
“How do you suggest we proceed with an initiative like this?”
“What are some ways that you think we could move faster on these issues?”
“Can you tell me more about your concerns?”
“What do you think we should do, ___?”
“Who do you think we need to get on board to make this happen?”
Create a “brainstorming” atmosphere. Let the group know that they will need to create and explore many options and that you are open to hearing their ideas. Motivate the group by establishing ground rules for brainstorming and how the group will listen to each other to promote open thinking.
Vote when appropriate. Votes should be private because when people have to take a position publicly, they will naturally feel more defensive. Always vote only when there are several options on the table. Before the vote, keep people open and thinking about the possibilities, rather than just giving them two options: this or that. Otherwise, they will choose that and have a tendency to defend their choice, even if they don’t wholeheartedly believe in it.
NOT TO DO
Do not allow people to take a fixed position. To avoid being defensive, encourage openness and collaboration from the start. If people take a position too soon, they will have a tendency to dig in and defend it. Suggest putting several options on a flipchart and then narrowing it down to the top three before voting. If you do your homework, you won’t be surprised when team members come to the meeting with fixed positions in mind that they will try to move forward. The best way to deal with this when it happens is to say, “I know some people have a clear idea about how we should do this. I’ll put that option on the board. I want a couple of other options to come up as well.” here too, so what are some other possibilities?”
Don’t put people in like-minded discussion groups. To encourage diversity of opinion, group together as many people as possible who have contrasting points of view. That way, instead of reinforcing each other’s positions, groups will explore new territory and create new material through the interaction of their ideas. Mix the groups up to discuss with each other and you’ll eliminate self-reinforcing “groupthink.”
Don’t let objections sabotage the team. When a team member raises an objection, they don’t need to sink the ship; rather, he views objections as signals of an opportunity to gain information that will enable him to influence the group. Dig deeper into objections and empathize with team members who raise them, really listening to what they have to say about why they disagree. Then take some time to reflect on the information before attempting to overcome the objection. Do not give an answer too quickly or the objector will feel that you did not really listen or that you are giving a prepared answer.
Let’s go Team! Influence your path to success
Great communication skills are essential for you to be able to effectively influence teams and groups. You can’t lead a group well if you go to the meeting “cold.” You need to do your homework ahead of time, communicate individually with key stakeholders, so you can understand their concerns and move the team in the direction you want it to go. When you are prepared, but remain flexible, your influence will also extend to those in the party who tend to hunker down behind a predetermined position to defend it. Practicing and refining your team’s influence strategy will lead to success for your group, your project, and you!