Question: “I lead a virtual marketing team. Everyone seems to have his or her ideas on how to do things. How do I lead the team to consensus?”
I know how hard it is to lead a virtual team. If you work in a big corporation, you know what I mean. There’re a lot of initiatives which are cross-functional.
Here are three rules I follow:
- Do my homework and define what I want first.
- Let the team Tear Apart My Ideas
- Get the team’s recommendations and input to refine the plans
When I was an operations manager, I was tasked with organizing a winter party for 200 people with help from a committee of 10 volunteers — all with different backgrounds and opinions. Had I opened the floor to suggestions from the get-go, I would have got at least 30 ideas thrown at me that I’d have to narrow down over numerous meetings, while juggling my full-time job.
So rather than asking the volunteers, “What do you want?” I did some homework and defined what I wanted. I searched online; I talked to event vendors; and I met with past volunteers. This helped spark my creativity and pointed me in the right direction, based on what worked well — and what didn’t — in the past.
From there, I presented a handful of theme ideas, the party objectives and an outline of how the event should flow.
Then, I put this information in front of the committee, it gave them something to react to …
I let them tear my ideas apart. We all love to be critics. Let them tell me what they like or don’t like and suggest more ideas.
This same framework and approach can also be applied to working with marketing and product development teams.
If you’re writing a value proposition, meet with your product team first, draft two or three options based on their insights, and then have your customers provide feedback. Define what you want and let your customers tear them apart. Or, if you manage content creation, and you have ideas about the types of content you envision based on your understanding of your company’s products, services and desired outcomes, go ahead and sketch them out and let your team tear it apart. My point is, bring your ideas to life first — come up with a couple of solutions or recommendations to share — and then let others chime in.
After letting them tear your ideas apart, now we move to the next stage: ask specific questions to build up a refined set of ideas — questions like, “What don’t you like about the ideas?” “What are your recommendations for changes? And the logics behind it?” “What features would you add to make our products better?” Do a deep drill-down with the team and let them talk things out.
The trick is: You have to keep everyone focused and not get diverted in different directions. You have to know when to let them win and when to stay firm to drive consensus to a final decision. To do that, you have to define what you want first and set clear objectives. This will serve as your guiding light on when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This is also important when the team reaches impasse, that would be the time to remind everyone about the agreed-upon objectives.
I have been able to carry this same approach from my role as operations manager, to marketing manager, to my current role of independent consultant. I internalize and create my own ideas and recommendations based on what I think my clients want, and then I present them to my clients so they can add their feedback to create what they actually want.