Cross-functional teams present a number of challenges for employees who are accustomed to more traditional management structures. In many cases, the team members hold comparable positions within their respective departments and no one person holds direct authority over the others. Even if someone is designated as the team leader, they may not have the management tools or authority that a leader might have within their own department. Given these dynamics, it can be challenging to persuade team members to carry out specific tasks or change their behaviors.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can provide a solid foundation for more effective influencing in situations where no one possesses clear authority. In some respects, influencing others in a cross-functional team isn’t all that different from a traditional team. Effective influence still relies upon trust and good communication, but there are a few additional considerations that need to be taking into account.
People are more likely to take ideas and proposals seriously when they have a sense that the person presenting them knows what they’re talking about. This credibility could be based upon extensive knowledge and formal education, but it also might come from first-hand experience. Someone with a track record of success and a reputation for speaking the truth will usually find it easier to have their voice heard in discussions, which allows them to be more effective influencers.
Much like trust, credibility can be hard to establish and easy to lose. Attempts to exaggerate or selectively disclose information will usually end badly when the truth becomes apparent. While it may seem counterintuitive, hearing a person admit they don’t know something can actually increase their credibility because people will be more likely to listen when they do express a point of view about a topic.
Find Common Ground
It’s much easier to build consensus upon shared values and goals. All the data and arguments in the world aren’t going to amount to much if they’re focused on producing an outcome that no one else is interested in achieving. Without some level of agreement on what goals a team should be pursuing, it’s impossible to resolve differences and formulate action plans.
Communication is incredibly valuable here. While team members should have shared goals for the team itself, they may have different ideas of what fulfilling those goals actually looks like. The team’s overarching goal should be a touchstone for all other discussions. If there is disagreement over the way work is being done, team member can always fall back on the idea that they’re working toward the same goal as a foundation for negotiation and compromise. While not all differences can be resolved, establishing a common ground between team members makes them more likely to accept the decisions resulting from these conflicts.
Working in a team can be difficult when no one clearly possesses decision making authority. While it’s easy to say that team members can work out differences collaboratively, in some cases it will simply not be possible to come to a consensus. There may also be difficulties when it comes to sharing information and prioritizing tasks. Without some semblance of structure, the team runs the risk of breaking up into a group of self-directed individuals who may not be able to coordinate enough to fulfill the team’s objectives.
For each project, then, teams need to take it upon themselves to establish the roles and responsibilities of their members. Who will be entrusted with final decision making authority in the event consensus cannot be reached? Whose input needs to be solicited before a decision is made? Who is responsible for approving tasks or executing actions? Defining these roles can also help establish communication channels, determining who needs to be consulted before decisions are made and who needs to be informed of the results.
Build Relationships Based on Trust
Trust forms the foundation of any team. If team members don’t feel like they can trust one another, they are more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors like withholding information, deflecting blame, and avoiding accountability. Without trust, no influencing strategy has much chance of working.
One of the easiest ways to build trust is by being as transparent as possible. People are more likely to trust someone who is open and honest with them. Demonstrating reliability by keeping promises and following through on commitments is another good way of building trust within a team. People are more likely to trust someone who holds themselves accountable and routinely makes good on their word.
Get to Know Team Members
While it’s not necessary for people to be close friends in order to be effective as a team, knowing a bit about one another can be immensely beneficial. Apart from breaking down barriers to communication, getting to know other team members personally makes it easier to empathize with them and understand how they think and behave. This makes influencing strategies more effective because requests or proposals can be positioned in ways that are consistent with a person’s needs, goals, or values, making them more likely to comply.
Knowing someone’s values, beliefs, and motivations is tremendously valuable during periods of conflict or disagreement, but the benefits extend beyond conflict resolution. Understanding what motivates team members makes it easier to support them in ways that help the team achieve its goals. Closer relationships also tend to facilitate better communication and collaboration in addition to opening up a wider range of influencing strategies. When team members know each other well, people are more aware of how their actions and workplace performance impact the team.
As more organizations implement cross-functional teaming, many leaders will be faced with the challenge of influencing team members without having any authority over them. Each team is a unique situation, requiring members to establish a working relationship that allows them to pursue a common goal. By creating a solid foundation for cooperation and collaboration, team members can set the stage for productive influencing strategies that promote the best ideas and strategies for success.
written by Rick Lepsinger
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