5 MINUTE READ
- Cross functional power struggles are common
- Power has different sources
- Cross functional power has to be earned
- Cross functional "power plays" are vital leadership skills
CROSS FUNCTIONAL POWER DYNAMICS
"Power" is the ability to exert influence and control. "Power dynamics" refer to how people exercise, cede and negotiate power. Effective cross functional operators work the power dynamics in their favor, and are able to influence across the organization.
It used to be, companies that had effective cross functional operators had a big competitive advantage. Now, if you don't have effective cross functional operators, you're at a competitive disadvantage.
KEY POINT: Supervisors, managers and executives that are skilled cross functional operators have a significant career advantage.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL POWER SOURCES
In companies, there are two types of power - "formal" and "informal", and power (or influence) has different sources. Formal power comes from your title and position in the company. The company empowers you to lead a team, department, function or silo. In a functional setting, where you're the boss, your title gives you authority. You have the authority to give direction, set expectations, provide feedback, offer rewards and dole out consequences.
Informal power comes from the respect given you by others. You achieve informal power when people (vs. the company) empower you to lead. In cross functional settings, there are main 3 sources of power -
- Respect - people follow you because they admire you, want to emulate you and not let you down
- Expertise - people follow you because you have knowledge, skills and experience that's valuable to them
- Social - people follow you because they want access to your connections and to be a part of your network
Cross functional power has to be earned. Cross functional authority/influence/control aren't granted by title and they can't be grabbed. You have to earn people's respect, demonstrate that you know what you're doing, and make it easy for people to join your virtual team. Cross functional power isn't something that rests inside you. You're actually empowered by others.
Leaders that struggle to exert cross functional power wrongly assume that their functional authority is meaningful to peers and colleagues that don't work for them.
Cross functional power struggles are common. When performance goals, metrics and rewards are functionally based, it's easy for people to be territorial. People up and down the silo are going to focus on what's in their (and their function's) best interest.
Common causes of cross functional power struggles include -
- Competing agendas - different goals, priorities and time lines
- Hidden agendas - priorities held privately w/in the silo
- Ulterior motives - different, often less obvious reasons to act
- Internal rivalries - past grievances or perceived slights
- Culture clash - different values
Companies, especially larger or fast growing companies can develop "subcultures". Different priorities, motives and values can slowly emerge. It tends to happen in little increments over time.
Power struggles happen when functions drift off the same page. Each side is trying to influence the other to get their way. When this happens, there are four possible outcomes.
- Win/Lose - you get your way and they don't
- Lose/Win - they get their way and you don't
- Lose/Lose - neither side walks away happy
- Win/Win - both sides walk away happy
Cross functional power struggles can bring out the worse in leaders. When goals aren't aligned, people tend to talk past each other - projects bog down, blame gets passed around and performance suffers. This is when cross functional leadership skills are needed most. The only way to develop common goals, mutual understanding and shared accountability is to focus on the collective good.
CROSS FUNCTIONAL LEADERSHIP: ATTRIBUTES & SKILLS
The modern day leader must posses both functional and cross functional attributes and skills.
Personal attributes are key because they form the basis of your cross functional reputation. Leaders that are considered to be open minded, empathetic and team oriented have a much easier time influencing across functions. Those with a reputation of being close minded, self-centered and egotistical struggle.
Cross functional leaders must be skilled at eliminating power struggles. They have to spot competing or hidden agendas, ulterior motives and bridge internal rivalries. They have to create win/win outcomes by promoting a shared vision, common goals, mutual respect and mutual accountability.
"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Dwight Eisenhower
Everyone uses power plays. A power play is a technique you use to influence others. Cross functional power plays are often counter intuitive. For example, it's only natural to focus on your priorities, but it's more effective to focus on the priorities of others. By focusing on the beliefs, attitudes, ideas and priorities of others, you accomplish the following -
- You develop goodwill by showing an empathetic interest in others
- You understand other's motives and how to influence their decisions and behaviors
- You begin to see the potential win/win
Power is also a state of mind. How you think of power influences your power plays. Power plays are simple little acts that say something about you as a leader. The traits you demonstrate as a cross functional leader matter, because collectively they form your reputation. Are you going to be known as a territorial leader? Or the type of leader everyone wants to work for?
Remember, effective power plays are simple little acts that compound over time. "Scorched earth" power plays don't work. Pulling rank, lobbying the CEO or going around people will put your cross functional colleagues on the defensive. You may end up winning little battles, but you'll lose the war.
Examples of Power Plays that work -
|POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES||"DO'S" (PRODUCTIVE BEHAVIORS)|
|Curious||Ask questions, seek information and knowledge|
|Self-aware||Ask for feedback, acknowledge your mistakes|
|Magnanimous||Offer assistance to others, share your network|
|Humble||Ask for assistance, acknowledge your shortcomings, express gratitude|
|Open minded||Solicit opinions/beliefs/ideas of others|
|Confident||Solicit feedback, share the credit|
|Empathetic||Show an interest in others, don't judge|
|Self- deprecating||Poke fun at yourself|
|Team oriented||Focus on cross functional goals, offer resources|
The Power Plays above use sustainable power sources (experience, knowledge and contacts) to help achieve cross functional goals. They avoid the "carrot and stick", because you have no inherent cross functional authority (aka "formal power").
Leaders that struggle for cross functional power have developed bad reputations. Their habits and reflexes have unintended consequences. Most of the time they're unaware of their counterproductive behaviors. They're often surprised to hear from peers that they're difficult to work with.
Examples of Power Plays that don't work -
|NEGATIVE ATTRIBUTES||"DON'TS" (COUNTERPRODUCTIVE BEHAVIORS)|
|Superficial||Cut people off, dominate conversations|
|Unaware||Make excuses, get emotional, show frustration|
|Selfish||Focus on your goals, defend your turf|
|Egotistical||Project self importance, pull rank|
|Close minded||Defend your position, get in last word|
|Insecure||Reject feedback, withdraw, disengage|
|Discouraging||Project skepticism and pessimism|
|Condescending||Focus on other's shortcomings, pass judgement|
|Self-centered||Hyper focus on your goals|
Most of these "do's" and "don'ts" have two things in common - they're easy to say and hard to do. Leaders agree that soliciting feedback is good and getting frustrated is bad, but cross functional power struggles can feel like emotional tug-of-war.
- Reflect - think about your recent cross functional power struggles. The ones that weren't positive, where they "Lose/Lose"? "Lose/Win"? Do you consider a "Win/Lose" a positive outcome?
- Take inventory - what are your sources of power? What are the things of value you bring to others? Do people see your value or resist your value?
- Self assess - what are your default power plays? How are you viewed by others? What is your cross functional reputation?
- Meetings - this is where cross functional power dynamics play out. It's easy to score or rate these interactions. Who is engaging in productive behaviors? Counterproductive?
- Practice - a power play is a skill that requires finesse. A power play needs repetition to become second nature. Focus on a vital few power plays. Don't try to master them all at once.
KEY TAKE AWAYS
Companies talk a lot about "culture". They use terms like "collaboration", "inclusion" and "respect".
Every company has two cultures - the one they talk about and the one they live. Sometimes they over lap, but often they don't.
A company's culture isn't reflected function by function. It's a cross functional representation.
Culture is a set of observable behaviors that cross functional teams demonstrate while making decisions, solving problems and dealing with setbacks.
Culture is a function of leadership. The power dynamics leaders use tell you all you need to know about a company's true culture.
Leaders influence the cross functional behaviors at all levels of the organization.