This is another of those simple concepts often over-complicated by well-meaning consultants in the realms of organisational psychology. Avoiding the complexity gives you more time to act. Once you understand what group power is, it will become easier to spot opportunities to influence more effectively. It will help you to magnify your influence and put the group to work.
So, keeping it simple, in organisational realms, group power is:
“the collective capacity of a group of people to create influence”
There are four elements you need to think about with this definition.
Firstly, what is a group? In the context of influence in large organisations, a group is any identifiable collection of people. This could be formal or informal. The important thing is they have a clear identity. The members of the group need to identify with the other members. Without identity and identifying, the group cannot collectively exert influence.
For instance, in one company I knew, lots of talented people had MBAs. To begin with, it was only by chance that they noticed a colleague who had an MBA. Then some bright spark decided to connect them, so everyone knew each other and, in the process, became very influential in that new informal group. Today there are bright sparks everywhere creating LinkedIn groups or Facebook pages to bring together people who have something in common.
Secondly, the word influence means there is a focus (here’s a practical definition of influence). What and who does the group want to influence? Group power is pretty pointless without it having something to do. So, when considering any group, remember to assess the target of their influence because different targets will respond to different types of power.
Returning to the MBAs, the bright spark thought it would be a fine idea, for the benefit of his friends as well as himself, if they could influence the addition of an MBA as a minimum qualification for all senior appointments. And, if they wanted to achieve that, it was quite simple to work out who they needed to influence.
Next, we have the word capacity; the capacity to influence varies from one group to another and, more importantly, from target to target. While a group can have lots of raw capacity, they need to focus on what will work. There are many different things which can give them capacities to influence (here are a few sources of power).
Another group of MBAs once landed in a bank equipped with their clever theories and 2×2 matrices. Their education was a huge raw resource that could give them the capacity to influence the corporate strategy. They failed (and exited) within eighteen months because the target of their influence all had degrees in hard knocks and real life. They didn’t respect the college kids and so ignored them.
By the way, I’m not against people with MBAs, I have one myself. What I am illustrating is the need to recognise what will work, or not work, in a given situation. And there are lots of different things which can work.
Collective, as the final element, is pretty straightforward. As the individuals have a shared identity and a purpose, they will each bring their personal power (capacity) to help the group meet its objectives. The power of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts ― provided the whole has a clear identity and purpose.
It is easy to identify formal groups like Marketing and HR. More difficult, but much more lucrative, is spotting the informal groups. Formal groups usually have someone placed in charge. Inside informal groups, it is much more mysterious and fluid. You can use your skill and ingenuity to work your way into a powerful position much more easily in an informal group. And, as it is often said, it is the informal groups which really run the show.
What are you going to do now to become more influential with the groups around your work?