Description: Even if a team is operating well internally, it can have trouble getting stakeholders to agree with its decisions. These techniques will help build consensus outside of the team.
The best way to build support for a decision is to give everyone who might be affected by it some input on the decision. Early in the team training, you created a list of the team’s stakeholders. Whenever the team makes a decision that will affect someone outside of the team—which could be the majority of your decisions—you should bring representatives of all affected parties into the process to some degree. How many times have you shaken your head at a decision made by someone else that affected you and said, “Nobody asked us what we thought?” Do not make the same mistake.
Try to select stakeholder representatives who:
- Have expertise in the functions of the groups they represent.
- Understand and are respected by people in those groups.
- Have shown they are open to change.
- Where appropriate, are delegated authority by those groups to speak for them in your interactions.
Do not limit your thinking to within your company or organization. If outside stakeholders such as suppliers or customers may be affected by the decision, ask if they would like to be involved. Even if they say no, you will build goodwill simply by asking. But most external stakeholders will be willing to make suggestions and comments, if not participate more actively.
- Create a team procedure that requires the team to:
- Ask who outside of the team might be affected by each major decision.
- Seek information and suggestions from those stakeholders as early in the decision-making process as possible.
- Ask representatives of the stakeholders to participate in subteam efforts and/or team meetings.
- Provide draft decisions to stakeholders for comments.
- Give stakeholder representatives equal voices to those of team members on those issues. In other words, reach consensus with them instead of overruling them simply because they are not on the team.
- (Optional) Review a prior decision:
- Choose an issue for which you had trouble getting support.
- Using the above procedure and guidelines, perform a “Lessons Learned” exercise on that issue to see where you could have built inclusion but did not.
- Set action items to add the procedure to the Team Charter and implement it.
- Choose a solution the team has proposed that could be tried on a smaller-scale, trial basis.
- Select a small number of people or groups typical of the larger group that would implement the change you are suggesting.
- If these people are outside the team, negotiate an agreement with them to try the change for a limited time.
- Select a time period for the test.
- If you do not already have them, find out the current standards for the operation you are changing.
Example: If you will run the test for the fourth quarter of this year, find out the output of the pilot group in the fourth quarter of last year and how much it cost to produce that output.
- Provide training on the change to the test group and arrange for ongoing mentoring.
- Start the test.
- Collect data on the costs and benefits of the change.
- At the end of the test period, compare statistics for the test and comparison periods and hold a “Lessons Learned” meeting with the test group.
Use the Results
- Modify the change you are proposing according to the test group’s statistics and suggestions.Note: Do not be afraid to admit the change will not work, if that is what the results suggest. Trying to push a failed solution will make your problems with external support worse. Willingness to admit you were wrong will build credibility for next time.
- Calculate the net benefits to the entire group, based on the benefits the test group saw.
Example: If the test group’s productivity increased by 1,000 items in a quarter, and there are three similar groups, simple math tells you the company could produce 16,000 more items a year by making the change you propose (1,000 per quarter X 4 quarters in a year X 4 groups). If there was something unusual about that time period, be sure to adjust your estimate. For instance, the first half of a typical year may be more productive than the second half due to summer and late-year vacations.
Warning: Note the term “net benefits” in Step 2. Do not forget to check changes in costs to see if they outweigh the value of the improvements.
- Make a formal proposal to decision-makers in those groups using the evidence you developed.
- If higher-level individuals must approve the decision, seek help from the people in the pilot test in taking the proposal forward.
Many teaming experts suggest the best way to get along with your stakeholders is to be close to their operations. That way you will not be considered “out of touch” with their needs. Consider moving your team physically closer to the stakeholders’ location if possible.
 The equipment management group at Los Alamos National Laboratory was having difficulty getting U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) auditors to accept policy changes the group proposed. So it began holding full-day process-change meetings at times the auditors could participate. They also included some equipment users from within the Lab so the auditors could see how their decisions affected “customers.” The result was dramatic. Decisions made during the meetings received automatic sign-off when they arrived at DOE for approval. Even decisions that had not involved the auditors moved through quicker because the auditors now understood the process.