Most people we meet tend to be focusing on influencing individuals — the stakeholder matters most. That is great, however it’s only a start. Once you have begun to make good progress individually, you can start to turn more of your attention towards groups. There are a number of reasons why this presents a great opportunity to raise your game.
- Efficiency. Every minute counts in a busy day. Why spend your time influencing one person when you could spend the same amount of time influencing 10 or 50 or more?
- Complexity. The bewildering array of variables to consider. Yes, this is an opportunity to push back from your cosy life and enter a new, stimulating world.
- Visibility. Scary but true, influencing groups means you have to get out there and perform on stage, or at least in front of a large group of people. Getting noticed is important to career prospects.
- Difficulty. Be under no illusion, this is challenging work. This means that fewer people attempt to do it and even fewer succeed. Those who do quickly rise to the top.
- Power. The more competent you become at influencing groups, the more powerful you will become. Power positively used can do a huge amount of good in the world and it can make your world pretty comfortable too!
So, assuming you’re interested in learning more about groups, what should you do next?
To make this as useful as possible, pause a moment and reflect on an Influencing Goal you are currently working on. Now try to imagine all of the groups which could be connected with your goal in some way. Remember to think about informal groups as well as the formal. Also think about external groups.
Try to identify as many as possible. Sometimes it helps to focus on individual stakeholders who are on your Stakeholder Map. Challenge yourself to spot all the groups that they might be a member of.
For an example, take a look at Identifying Groups.
Once you have identified an impactful group, you need to start understanding how it operates. This can be an extremely difficult undertaking, particularly if the group in question is large, complex or distant. Irrespective of the challenge, any attempt to fathom it will yield benefits. Here are the key things you want to begin to learn about:
- Developmental Stage. There are various models available (e.g. Forming, Storming, Norming, etc.). Knowing where the groups are in these models will give you clues about how the members are interacting with each other. For example, your influencing approach may be radically different if they are in Storming mode.
- Agenda. What is their purpose? Is this formally expressed or informally known? The Badminton Club may just be there to have some fun but, if you plan to sell off the company sports club, they may shift their agenda quickly.
- Structure. Typical organisation structures are easy to see. It gets more complex when you are seeking to influence loosely structured groups such as social groups. All functioning groups are likely to have some structure, rules and procedures even if they are not written down.
- Culture. Probably the most obvious and difficult to understand aspect of groups — and the most challenging. This takes structure to its deepest level and requires you to gain an understanding of the common values and behavioural norms.
- Membership. Who are the most prominent members (powerful or influential) and how do they relate to each other? This will start to reveal who you should be focusing your attention on and who you can ignore. The relationship between the members can take some time to uncover and there may well be ‘history’, which has an unseen effect on what happens in the group.
- Stability. This aspect is really a deeper look at the developmental stage. Groups can go backwards as well; for instance, if a number of prominent members leave, it can slip back into Norming, or if there is a large influx of new members which stretch the socialisation processes to breaking point. Another point to consider is how long the group and key members have been together — the longer and deeper their relations, the more obtuse group functions can appear.
- Decision Making/Opinion Forming. This lies at the heart of your influencing effort since you want them to make a decision to back your idea. Once you understand these, you can become much more efficient with your influence strategy. Focus first on how they handle decisions similar to the one you are asking them to make and, don’t forget, most decisions are substantially informal in nature despite the prominence of strict processes.
- External Influences. All groups exist within the context of lots of other groups including legislators, competitors, suppliers, etc. Each group will have an agenda and it is important to work out which groups are having the greatest impact on the group you are looking at. How these agendas play out can have a huge impact on the functioning of the group you are assessing.
Having given the areas above some serious consideration, now you need to determine how this group is likely to impact your work and figure out what you are going to do about it.
One good way of making some quick progress is to use the Stakeholder Influence Process and develop an Influencing Goal specific to the group you are looking at. The reflections on all of the points above will be the input to the mapping process and your strategy will likely appear quite obvious if you follow the process.
An even better way is to get your team fully involved in this process too. The very act of exploring it together will enhance the insight and learning you will all gain.
As said at the beginning of this article, this is a complicated area of influence, but also one which is stimulating and fun. The more I wrote, the more involved it became and I hope this high-level review of the topic will be enough to get you going.
Due to the complexity and the fun, if you feel it would be useful to chat through your analysis or situation, please get in touch. When you do, either I or one of my colleagues would be more than happy to help you explore your situation a little more.
Colin Gautrey is an author, coach, and trainer who specialises in the practical use of power and influence in large organisations. He has 25 years’ experience helping middle/senior professionals to survive, thrive and enjoy their work.
If you are ready to develop your influencing capability, become a member of Breakthrough Influence. If you are serious about becoming highly influential, fast, engage with Colin and he will help you get there in the most effective way possible.
Other articles by Colin:
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