I’ve worked with hundreds of teams from across the spectrum over the past 20 years. And I’ve observed a few universal rules that always apply.
Today I’ll talk about the most important one: the ability to influence.
More specifically: the capability to influence as a team, upward into leadership (and ownership), laterally across silos, down through the ranks and outward to vendors and partners.
As you know, this can be one of the biggest headaches for leaders: driving alignment up, down and across to get big things done – especially when you don’t have the explicit authority to do so.
…all the while dancing around the antibodies that resist change.
Good news: there is both art AND science to influencing as a team. In fact, there’s a playbook. I outline it below.
Disclaimer: since there is an entire book's worth of specifics here (which I'm currently writing), this post will serve to give you an introduction to the basics.
The Challenges To Being A Highly Influential Team
In our increasingly networked world, teams face many inhibiting forces like:
- Competition for resources that descends into politics rather than ascending into data-driven analyses.
- Distributed teams complicated by far-flung locations, mismatched goals and different cultures.
- Last but not least – the caustic chemistries that erupt from our lower selves.
In short, team performance lags from all the ways people naturally get tripped up, instead of playing for the good of the whole.
That’s just real.
What A Highly Influential Team Looks Like
Step into another possibility: when teams align and work to influence together, they become powerful.
Highly influential teams contribute far more than the sum of their parts.
This is because the team develops the authority to coalesce and drive solutions across an organization. They move through and around antibodies to change.
With aligned purpose and strong collaboration, they drive solutions like:
- Transforming silos into winning relationships.
- Breaking through the politics that stifle growth and change.
- Increasing clarity and gaining commitments by making the needs and wants of all stakeholders clear, then offering a path to deliver on them.
- Creating focus on the highest return investments by identifying primary constraints, presenting them to others, and marshaling resources to resolve them.
- Using data to create influencing and alliance-building moves - to get things done.
That’s a powerful team, one whose brand and credibility are on the rise.
7 Steps For Your Team To Become Highly Influential And More Powerful
First, you have to believe the right series of compelling requests can influence anyone and transform them into your ally.
The base code is this: teams influence when they make compelling requests to resolve primary constraints.
The primary constraint is the largest choke point in any system. It must first be identified. Then, when a team identifies how to resolve it, they make compelling requests. They rationally and convincingly propose high return investments. Thinking systemically, they identify and map out the linkages (up, down, and across).
This is where the power to influence comes from.
To set a team on this course, here’s the playbook in seven steps.
You'll want to gather your team and fill in the blanks. This has the power to align your team around a defensible, data-driven approach to making the right requests to the right stakeholders in the right order.
1. Your desired future state is ___________.
For the issue at hand, what does the goal look like? Stand in that future, as a team, look around, and describe it.
2. Your gaps, priorities and primary constraints are ______, _______, and _______.
To get from your current state to your desired future state, what resource or capability gaps need to be filled? Critically, what is the biggest or first gap – your primary constraint? When the team knows the primary constraint to attaining a desired future state, and knows what priority investments will resolve it, as well as the likely profitable outcome, they have a winning storyline.
3. Your targets are _____ and _____.
Who controls the resources – financial, material, political, etc. – to get you to your future state? What requests need to be made of whom?
4. Your key allies are _____ and _____.
Who needs to help clear the way? Teams that influence successfully first build their coalitions.
5. Your top currencies are ______, ______, and ________.
A currency is something of value that you have and can trade. What can you trade in? Types of currencies include values, a strong purpose, influential roles and relationships (both internal and external), the ability to authorize or block, or capabilities to deliver on key tasks. There’s more to this than you may initially suspect, and different team members may offer different currencies.
6. Your first compelling request will be ______.
What do you need to ask of whom, based on what evidence, in order to take the next step on the journey to your desired future state? Clarify your top task to be accomplished and relationship to be built or cultivated.
7. When you get a decline your next move will be ______.
Game the outcomes. Teams that play the influencing game have a Plan B and C and possibly D.
A team that seeks to influence key stakeholders and build coalitions around good ideas is going to infect organizations with their clarity, passion and vision for success.
Thanks for reading.