Megan is a promising young staffer in a large financial industry organization. Her degree and hard work have taken her a long way in her short career because she has been willing to do, on her own, whatever it took to get the job done. The late nights and other sacrifices have finally paid off for this rising star and management has decided to give her a small but important project. Megan is both excited and anxious; she cannot, this time, simply put her head down, think creatively and pound out the work by herself. This effort requires teamwork, resources and information that she doesn’t have. For the first time, Megan is going to have to convince people above and below her in the food chain to work on her behalf even though they don’t report to her. She’ll need to cajole others into letting her borrow resources that they control. Megan will have to convince others to expend time and perform work for her. She’ll have to extract information from co-workers who understand that information is power and who won’t relinquish it without a clear understanding of what’s in it for them.

So, how can Megan deliver a successful project through teamwork when no one works for her?

1. Through “reciprocity”: favors asked and given, information and resources shared, time taken and allowed, thoughtfulness demonstrated, etc.

Your personal “reciprocity account” with each co-worker was opened the day you started work and you and your co-workers make deposits and withdrawals everyday. You add to your “credits” each time that you respond generously and enthusiastically to someone’s request for help or information. Your credits diminish each time you ask for help or deny help to someone. You can accumulate credits more quickly when you ante-up first by volunteering proactively. “Hey Bob, I’ve got a couple hours of downtime. Anything I can help you with?” Nine times out of ten they will decline and you will have lost nothing. But you will have added a “credit” to your account with them even though they didn’t accept your offer. Of course, be ready to help them out if they agree. Later, it’s more likely they will remember your thoughtfulness when you ask them for something. Do a good job, on schedule, and you’ll bank even more goodwill. The more credits you have and the greater number of people you have credits with increases your support pool when you start searching for assistance.

2. Answer “What’s in it for me?” That’s the (usually) unspoken question most people will want answered when you approach them with a request for help. Give this some thought before you approach them and have your answer ready. What’s important to the person you’re approaching? How are they motivated? What solutions do you have to their typical problems? What resources or information do you have to “trade”? How can their participation in your project be important to them personally or professionally?

3. Use Your Track Record and Charisma. Another way to gather support from others is through your reputation, your personal track record. If people respect and admire you for your accomplishments they’re much more likely to want to be known for having a part in your project. People identify with and rally around winners and want to share in their success. And don’t underestimate the power of personal charisma, credibility and a positive mental attitude. Enthusiasm and confidence are often infectious and can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is tremendous power in a compelling vision and persistence in pursuing it. If you believe in and act strongly and consistently in your beliefs, those beliefs/visions are much more likely to be realized. If you don’t believe that, ask a successful athlete about the power of “positive visualization”. Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things… when they are engaged and inspired. Use your past accomplishments and passion to engage others.

4. Be Likeable. Life is too short and nobody is inclined to help mean, impatient, perpetually “glass-half-empty” and crabby people. Your reciprocity account depletes when you fail to follow at least minimally expected social behaviors.

5. Be Trustworthy. Building personal trust is a process that takes place over time. Start building trust with significant coworkers immediately. Keep promises; be credible and truthful always; communicate fully; demonstrate that you have trust in others by putting yourself at risk; share victories and defeats.

6. Appeal to Their Loyalty. You can encourage support for your project by marketing the project to coworkers as a meaningful improvement to the company or your unit. Find ways to remind people of the importance of the end result of your project by tying it to customer satisfaction, profitability, organization growth or soundness, etc. People want to be a part of something special and you’re there to give them that opportunity.

7. Offer “15 Minutes of Fame”. Projects can be opportunities for “upwardly mobile” employees to play an important role by working beside the bigger fishes in the company. By temporarily raising their status we transfer some of our power to them, which they can return to us in the form of participation, ideas and enthusiasm. Some people might be motivated by a chance to gain a higher visibility to these higher-level decision-makers; for others, participation on your project might be their opportunity to speak out and “give their two-cents worth”. These can be powerful incentives to some coworkers.

8. Drop Important Names. Do you have an important or high-ranking sponsor or mentor who you can claim is supporting your project? Mention them at the start to give credence and weight to your project.

9. Let Them Volunteer: An internal study by Texas Instruments revealed that the best predictor of success or failure of a project was whether people had volunteered or been assigned to a project. Make it known in social circles that you are looking for volunteers for your important, high-visibility project.

10. You gain support and helpers by setting a good example. You can’t expect people to follow where you, yourself, are not willing to go. Show that you’re working hard on the project and that progress is being made. People will be reassured that others are actively working and that they wouldn’t be shouldering all of the work themselves if they participate. (Knowing that others “did the right thing” invokes an unconscious desire to do the same thing. Talk about others who have volunteered successfully in similar situations).

11. Show Appreciation. Make yourself aware of good Request personal prophecy work that takes place in and outside of your workgroup and of good performers (both above and below you on the organization chart). Make an effort to praise them verbally or with a short note or e-mail when they accomplish something noteworthy. This helps you in two ways: you develop a list of “winners” who are potential team members for future projects and you add to your reciprocity account.

Give people regular feedback on the progress of your project, especially those who may be reluctant to help or join your project at the start. As your project experiences early successes and gains momentum, ask them again; they may change their minds.

12. Overcome Objections. Think about, in advance, how you can overcome their objections to helping you. Will helping you take too much of their time or effort? How could their participation be bad for them and what could they be risking? Will helping you threaten their ego? Did you know that the average person is more likely to help a stranger than a friend? Why? Because the friend’s success could be a threat to their own self-esteem; a stranger’s success is meaningless. Minimize envy or jealousy by promoting “you and me for (or against) something else”.

13. How to ask for someone’s help is also important.
• Your request should contain three components:
o Detail specifically what you want from them and when
o How they will feel good about helping
o The relative ease in which this favor can be accomplished
• Ask as far in advance as possible. People who are pressured for time (aren’t we all?) are more likely to help if they have some advanced notice.
• When you ask, mention how important their participation is. People are more likely to help if they believe that they are your only hope.
• Be enthusiastic, respectful but persistent. Research suggests that asking up to six times is the magic number.

14. To get people to follow through with their offer to help:
• Get them to agree verbally and speak the word “Yes”. This develops a sense of obligation and engages their conscience.
• End the conversation with an agreement. “See you Thursday at 10:00am… right?”
• As the day for their promised help approaches, call and remind them that you appreciate that they are someone who follows through and that you are glad that they know the value of friendship or loyalty, whichever is applicable.

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