The rigid, hierarchical management structure of the classic organization is becoming less common in today’s fast-moving organizations. Increasingly, companies are flattening their management structures to increase versatility and leveraging their existing resources through cross-functional teams that draw upon multiple departments. While these changes create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration, they also present some unique challenges.
In many cases, the team members in these groups do not hold direct authority over one another. Even if someone is designated as a team leader, they may not possess the management tools needed to compel people to comply with a request. In the absence of that authority, understanding how to utilize influencing strategies effectively is critical to finding success. Fortunately, there are a few secrets that can make it easier for leaders who are influencing without authority:
1: Set the Stage
Influence management skills are more effective when you’ve laid a foundation for them in advance. When there’s no basis of authority to rely upon, trust and good communication are far more important when it comes to making a request. Any attempt to influence someone is more likely to be successful if you’ve taken the following steps to establish a relationship:
- Demonstrate Credibility: Regardless of the influencing strategy being used, people are more likely to take the request seriously if they respect the expertise or integrity of the person making it. Someone with a track record of success or a reputation for honesty will generally find it easier to have their voice heard.
- Find Common Ground: Consensus is easier to build when people share values and goals. In a cross-functional team, people may have different ideas about how to achieve their objectives, but the fact that they’re pursuing the same goals provides a foundation for negotiation and compromise. While differences may not be fully resolved, people are more likely to accept decisions or requests when there is common ground between them.
- Build Relationships Based on Trust: Trust is the foundation of any team; without it, no influencing in business is likely to be effective. Teams can build trust by being as transparent as possible and holding members accountable. When team members demonstrate reliability, they’re more likely to be willing to trust one another.
- Get to Know Team Members: When team members know a bit about each other, they are more likely to show empathy and understand how their teammates think and behave. This understanding allows for closer relationships, facilitating better communication and collaboration. It also makes it easier to identify which strategies will be most effective with different team members.
2: Understand the Outcomes
Any attempt to influence someone is going to have an outcome. Understanding the outcome you’re trying to achieve as well as the potential consequences of falling short could be critically important to your overall approach. In many cases, not achieving the desired outcome on the first try could make it difficult to use additional strategies in the future.
- Commitment: Often the ideal outcome, commitment represents full buy-in. The person not only does what you want them to do, but they’ve also internalized why it’s important and will go to additional lengths to make it happen. A committed response may indicate that the person will be more receptive to subsequent requests.
- Compliance: The person does what you’ve asked them to do, but nothing more. They may or may not agree with the request or agree that it should be done, but they’re sufficiently convinced that they should carry it out. Compliance should not be confused with commitment, as the person will likely not be more receptive to additional requests and might even view them with more skepticism.
- Resistance: Failed influencing strategies are met with resistance, with the person refusing to carry out the request. While other attempts might prove more effective, direct means of coercion, such as resorting to some external source of authority, may be necessary to compel the person to comply.
3: Choose the Right Strategy
While there are a number of influencing strategies that can be used in a variety of situations, some are more effective than others. When attempting to influence someone without authority, four strategies stand out as the most likely to produce a beneficial, committed outcome.
- Reasoning: Uses logical arguments and factual evidence to explain why a task is necessary. This strategy tends to be most effective when people’s goals are closely aligned and there is a high level of credibility.
- Inspiring: Appeals to a person’s values and ideals to create enthusiasm around a proposal. This strategy is most effective when the person’s values and motivations are closely aligned with the request.
- Consulting: Collects input and suggestions for improving a proposal, which encourages the person to become actively involved in formulating solutions. This strategy is most effective when the person has information you need and their cooperation is necessary for a proposal to be implemented.
- Collaborating: Reduces the difficulty of compliance by offering to provide relevant resources or assistance. This strategy is most effective when you can reduce the cost of compliance without creating additional problems.
4: Keep Perspective in Mind
It’s critically important to remember that any influencing strategy has to be catered to appeal to the person being influenced, not the person making the request. If someone is driven by data and logical arguments, for instance, attempts to inspire them to contribute to some exciting new endeavor are likely to fall flat. In order to craft the most convincing argument, you need to understand that person’s perspective and what motivates them. Active listening skills can be tremendously important here, as any attempt at influencing without authority should make substantial use of paraphrasing, empathizing, and questioning to help identify the most effective approach.
5: Remember Relationships
No matter what strategy you use, influencing without authority is ultimately about navigating relationships. While a task may be extremely important to an organization from an objective standpoint, you must find ways to explain why it matters to the people who must carry it out. Requests should be personalized and unique to each relationship because not every person is motivated by the same things and not every relationship is the same. While this can make it quite challenging to make requests in team context, understanding how to leverage relationships will make it more likely that influencing strategies will result in positive outcomes.
With cross-functional teams and flattened organizational structures becoming more common, influencing without authority is a critical skill for today’s leaders. By keeping a few strategies and basic principles in mind, they can take the first steps toward building a foundation for influence and identifying how to secure commitment without resorting to unnecessary conflict.