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How to get your team to buy into an idea

There’s a big promise associated with any team: that by bringing together a group of talented people, so much more is possible. Better ideas, stronger performance, greater endurance, more fun. (Perhaps you’ve heard the cute line that the word TEAM stands for “together everyone achieves more”?)

But teams also face a challenge: each of its talented, motivated individuals members will have their own opinions and ideas about how to go about things, making it likely that they’ll pull the chariot in different directions. It’s this challenge that often makes it difficult for teams to fully realise their promise.

Of course, the diversity of ideas and thinking in a team is part of its magic, so the question is not how do you stop people thinking for themselves. Rather, team leaders and members need to be excellent at inspiring one another to listen to new ideas, and to unite around the best ones; to execute those ideas with focus and energy. So how do you ensure your own ideas get cut through?

1. Have a Big ‘So What?’

To get the team’s attention, have a compelling answer to this simple but powerful question: SO WHAT? After all, if you can’t answer that question with clarity and conviction, then why should anyone listen, let alone buy into your idea?

Asking yourself “so what?” forces you to think of the practical (not intellectual), meaningful (what actually matters to your team?) and compelling reasons for action. The honesty of the language (try saying “so what” with the jaded tones of a less-than-convinced teenager sitting opposite you, arms crossed and with a disbelieving look on their face) forces honesty in the answer. It requires you to be your own hardest critic before you present your ideas. And it also jolts people to sit up straight.

Ask yourself “so what?” – and keep asking it, until you can come up with a truly compelling reason for action, before you pitch your idea to others in the team. This is what I call the BIG SO WHAT – the one that will pack the greatest punch. The Big So What needs to connect to something that actually matters to the team: a current goal, a pain point, something that inspires them.

2. Read the play

It’s often said that the secret to good comedy is timing. Well, the same is true when it comes to getting your team to listen to an idea. Knowing when to pitch your idea – and when to put it on hold – is critical.

This means knowing how to “read the play” – a sporting term that refers to the way some players read the game as its unfolding and make judgements about how to adapt. When getting your team to buy into a new idea, be careful not to simply jump out of the starting gates once an idea has crystallised in your mind. Read the play by adjusting your approach and timing to account for the prevailing mood, distractions, competing priorities and even organisational politics.

3. Make action easy

One of the most common things that thwarts new ideas and initiatives is the perceived difficulty in actually doing the work. Do we have the time? Do we know how to do this? Does it all feel too hard?

Getting your team to buy into an idea and, ultimately, to act on it, is much easier if you break the first stages of action down into tiny chunks. Take the example of a manager who wanted his team to increase the number of sales calls they made each week. Rather than asking people to make ten extra calls (the required number), he broke the change into tiny chinks, asking everyone to make just one extra call in the first week. Easily done. He then upped the target to two calls, and so on until the team was happily making the ten extra calls.

About the author

Simon Dowling is the author of Work with Me: How to get people to buy into your ideas (Wiley). An expert in making collaboration happen, Simon runs workshops, coaches leadership teams and speaks at conferences. His website is www.simondowling.com.au.


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Simon Dowling

Simon Dowling

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