Lead Your Team to Victory: The Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Group Influence

By Alan Vengel

Much of our work today depends on our ability to influence groups of people we lead or work with on projects. Groups are made up of many personalities, mindsets, motives and agendas—some explicit and others hidden—so having a specific strategy for influencing teams can mean the difference between success and failure.

Effective influencers have a good set of communication behaviors and know how and when to use them. They strategize which to use based on their assessment and the result they want. They are flexible in developing an approach and responding in the moment.

As an influencer, you assert your needs and make specific suggestions to others about how they can meet your needs. Influence is not manipulation. These behaviors should not be exercised aggressively, or else the team or group you’re seeking to influence may resist or withdraw. To successfully lead a group or team, consider the following do’s and don’ts. These tips will help you to be an effective influencer and to prepare for the unique challenges you’re likely to experience when you seek to lead teams and groups.

DOs

  • Mentally separate the group. Knowledge beforehand is essential to efficient planning. In order to influence the individuals in the group, you must target each of them before the meeting takes place. Think of the group as a collection of individuals, each of them having opinions and issues that you must seek to understand in order to influence them. Put yourself in each team member’s shoes and make some assumptions about what their main concerns might be so that you can create a strategy. For example, looking at individuals on a work team, you might think, “If I were ___, what would I be most concerned about? What would be ___’s response to my efforts to influence the group? If I were ___, how would I respond to “me?” What does ___ feel he or she has to gain and lose?”

  • Form a common ground coalition. Before the group meets, contact those whom you’ve identified as key stakeholders and listen to their concerns. Check out the assumptions you’ve made. Ask questions to find out stakeholders’ main concerns, how each views the issues, and where you might experience resistance. Consider some disclosure of your own as you feel it’s appropriate, such as similar situations you may have been in or ways that you feel you can identify with a key member’s position. When you have established a rapport with these key people, you establish your approach and will be prepared to capitalize on common ground issues when the full group meets. You can open the meeting by saying something like, “I know that none of us in this room really are welcoming change right now. All of us have something to lose in this proposition, but we all have something to gain. I believe we can work together to make that gain something that outweighs the loss.”

  • Make desired results clear. From the group’s first meeting, let them know what you expect the team to 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, “What I can see us doing today is coming up with a strategy that all of us can buy into and accomplish.” Or “I can see us looking back at this meeting a year from now and saying that it was then that we really turned things around.”

  • Provide rationale for your ideas. Supporting your contentions with facts shows that you have done your homework and provides a good balance to your vision. Remember, people may be convinced by rational reasoning, but they will be more likely to be moved to action when you supplement rationality with emotion-based arguments.

  • Ask open-ended, focused questions. Your goal should be inclusiveness and rapport building with everyone in the group. Without being passive or giving a lot of ground, ask how, what, where and why questions that drill down, focusing on one particular issue or statement. For example:

  • “How do you suggest we proceed with an initiative like this?”

  • “What are some ways you think we could move more quickly on these issues?”

  • “Would you tell me more about your scheduling concern?”

  • “What do you think we ought to do, ___?”

  • “Who do you think we need 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 for how the group will listen to each other in order to promote open thinking.

  • Vote when appropriate. Votes should be private because when individuals must publicly take a stand, they’ll naturally feel more defensive. Always vote only when there are a number of options on the table. Before the vote, keep people open and thinking about possibilities, rather than just giving them two choices: this or that. Otherwise, they will select that and have a tendency to defend their choice, even if they don’t wholeheartedly believe in it.

DON'Ts

  • Don’t allow people to take a fixed position. To avoid defensiveness, encourage openness and collaboration right at the beginning. If people take a position too early, they will have the tendency to dig in and defend it. Suggest putting several options on a flip chart and then narrowing those down to a top three before voting. If you do your homework, you will remain unsurprised by team members who come into the meeting with fixed positions that they try to push through. You can best deal with this by saying, “I know some people have a strong idea about how we should do this. I’ll put that option up on the board. I also want to get a couple of other options up here, too, so what are some other possibilities?”

  • Don’t put people into like-minded discussion groups. To encourage a diversity of opinions, group people who have contrasting views. That way, rather than reinforcing each other’s positions, groups will explore new territory and create new material through the interplay of their ideas. Blend the groups so that they debate one another and you’ll eliminate “groupthink” reinforcing itself.

  • Don’t let objections sabotage the team. When a team member presents an objection, it need not sink the ship. Look at objections as signals of an opportunity for you to obtain information that will allow you to influence the group. Probe more deeply 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 mull over the information before you attempt to overcome the objection. Don’t come up with an answer too quickly or the objector will feel you didn’t really listen or are giving a prepared answer.

Go Team! Influencing Your Way to Success: Great communication skills are essential for you to effectively influence teams and groups. You can’t lead a group well if you go into the meeting unprepared. You must do your homework in advance so that you can understand their concerns and move the team in the direction you want it to go. When you’re prepared, yet remain flexible, your influence will also extend to those in the group who might tend to dig in behind a predetermined position to defend it. Practicing and refining your team influencing strategy will lead to success for your group, its project and you!

Read other articles and learn more about Alan Vengel.

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