Stuck in traffic on the way home, Chris started talking to herself.  “Ok, what happened this afternoon? Is this good news or bad news? I mean, in the last nine months, it seems that we all have been required to do more with less: More assignments with quick turnaround time. More duties with fewer direct reports. More tasks with less information.

“And now, I’ve been ‘informally’ promoted. If I bring in the Axis project in on time and under budget, I’ll be named manager of this ad hoc team. How can I possibly succeed, given the project timeline, the budget, and this particular group of people?! And how in this world will they want to work for a person who has less seniority and less experience than any of them, someone whose success is linked to their buy-in and cooperation, and a person who talks to herself in the car?!?”

Before the first sip of her first cup of tea the next morning, problems with her new team began.

  • Dwight barged into her office with a list of questions, most of which they had discussed and resolved two weeks ago. Why can’t he ‘stay told’ once the decision has been made?
  • Elaine e-mailed asking for a one-on-one afternoon meeting. She attached an agenda which covered everything from suggestions about the design of a team t-shirt, to revamping the critical path of project plan, to detailing the lack of initiative of all the other team members.
  • Bob popped in with a draft of the first team communication. Chris scanned it and wondered why her idea of results and Bob’s understanding of results seemed worlds apart?

Chris closed her office door, put her head on her desk, and mumbled under breath, “Oh, this definitely is NOT good news!”

This is a prime opportunity for Chris to use her influence with her team. Influence has been defined as the ability to affect others—seen only in its effect—without exertion of force or formal authority. Keys to being influential with others are the skills of attentiveness and flexibility.

Let’s rewind the day to determine how Chris could increase her chances of influencing her team.

Dwight is the accounting supervisor, charged with oversight of the project budget. In her quest for influence with Dwight, Chris may

  • Set a formal appointment with him to discuss his concerns
  • Review his questions with a view to giving Dwight the detail of information he needs to be comfortable with the budget expenditures
  • Prepare documentation—spreadsheets or graphs—to show the project plan visually
  • Draw on her latest experience with Dwight to remind him of her attention to detail and her trustworthiness

Elaine is HR’s representative on the team. To enhance her ability to be influential with Elaine, Chris may

  • Take Elaine to lunch
  • Ask Elaine about her son’s soccer team and her flower arranging class
  • Acknowledge her creativity in suggesting a team t-shirt and her out-of-the-box thinking about the critical path of the project
  • Ask for Elaine’s patience as she (Chris) sets and manages the expectations for the team and for each team member.

Bob is the longest-tenured team member and Chris’ chief competitor for team lead. Two years from retirement, Bob sees his chief role as Devil’s Advocate on the team and in the company. To enhance her chances of influencing Bob, Chris may

  • Ask Bob to come in to have a quick, immediate chat about his e-mail
  • Acknowledge Bob’s perspective of the project without wholesale acceptance of his ideas
  • Give a high level overview of Chris’ expectations for project results
  • Clearly communicate her expectation that Bob will support her and thereby support the success of the team

Each team member should be treated individually with respect and as a group with integrity. As outlined in the scenarios above, the approach which will work for one probably will not work for all team members.  Clearly, the work of being influential takes focus, attention, and intentional flexibility. Using effective tools to identify team members’ interaction styles can facilitate that attention and flexibility which can develop influence-ability.