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Insight Series: How to depower four common business blocker


It’s no secret there is risk associated with mergers, acquisitions, company sales, joint ventures, or optimising capital structures for commercial success. When engaging the expert teams necessary to achieve transaction success, it can be shocking to learn someone very close poses the most significant threat of all.

Meet The Blocker.

The Blocker is a self-appointed position. The most common goal of a Blocker is to protect the status quo. Dig a little deeper, and it will fast become clear that preserving the status quo also means protecting the Blocker’s personal situation.

Mid-market businesses may find a Blocker at a bank choosing to do the minimum level of investigation on a client’s behalf. Say the client has a product or service that would benefit from an introduction to a different division of the bank. A team player operating with integrity would make that introduction with one email. A blocker will avoid making the connection because it means the business would go to another division, impairing the blocker’s revenue attainment and personal remuneration.

Imagine the client’s reaction with insight to such behaviour?

Now imagine how many clients are none the wiser every single day.

Blockers are not new, or unique, or rare. That said, it’s in the interests of every mid-market firm seeking commercial success to know how to spot blockers and depower them.

Let’s explore the characteristics of four common blockers and how to depower them best.

Four common blockers and how to depower them 

Opposing blocker. The opposing blocker is easy to spot by their tendencies to disengage during meetings, interrupt speakers, display arrogant behaviour, and critical language. Pay attention if you start hearing opinions such as “We’ve tried that already. It didn’t work” or “That will never get off the ground.” The blocker may turn out to be correct, but if you believe your idea will work, it’s worth aiming to depower an opposing blocker in the most excellent way possible

Tip: Convert opposing blockers by involving them in a small-scale project and setting them up for success. When success arrives, give the opposing blocker the limelight. Sometimes an esteem boost is just the thing to turn a detractor into a supporter. Don’t be shy to openly question an opposing blocker in group forums to pinpoint their position publicly and flush out points of resistance or deliberate non-collaboration. Ask “why” questions to force explanations of their position or to reveal their plan.

Silent blocker. A silent blocker is often deadly for a project. You’ll know these folks because they won’t voluntarily step forward to get involved in anything new. This blocker will agree with anything to avoid tension. They may also take evasive action to dodge a revelation that will affect their remuneration. Watch out for comments like “I thought you two already knew each other.” Other times, they’ll quietly watch the project unfold and be the first to comment on problems. Wait for it: “I knew it would fail, but I have a plan to fix things.”

Tip: The tactic to revealing and depowering a silent blocker lies in identifying them as early as possible. Call out anyone you suspect is a silent blocker and ask for ideas, perspectives, and concerns. When you get them to share their thinking, follow up on their suggestions.

Sometimes when someone feels “heard” and can share ownership in the initiative, it’s enough to convert them into a staunch supporter. Other times, extracting essential information from a silent blocker is what you need to break their influence, reveal their agenda, and move forward in the most beneficial way for you.

Smiling blocker. Also known as a smiling assassin. This blocker will smile, agree, show enthusiasm in meetings, and then do everything in their power to undermine the project. Smiling blockers are usually driven by fear. It may be fear of change, fear of disrupting personal enrichment, or fear of destabilising a political agenda.

Tip: Understanding a smiling blocker’s fear is key to depowering their negative influence. When you get insight into what is driving the person, address those issues. Perhaps it’s reassuring someone of job continuity. Maybe it’s a change management conversation. Sometimes, in the case of interrupting inappropriate personal enrichment, it becomes a conversation around fraud, corruption, or termination.

Trained blocker. Sometimes blockers are created when the company rewards certain behaviours. For example, when an organisation only rewards revenue attainment or cost Savings it “trains” a team that those are the only initiatives to support. It’s a Management 101 principle that people practice rewarded behaviours. Even when those behaviours may thwart the company’s strategic goals.

Tip: As a leadership team, agree on a balanced scorecard to shape desired behaviours. On a special or new initiative, educate trained blockers on how success will be measured and give them a framework for success.

Other techniques to identify blockers and either convert them into supporters or ring-fence their sphere of influence include:

  • The Daily Scrum model from the agile methodology. Run a daily meeting where team members can voice opportunities and challenges around realising the project’s goals. A scrum gives you a daily chance to identify and depower blockers, genuinely identify and clear destabilising obstacles, and improve productivity.
  • Assign accountability. Appoint an owner to ensure the team has the resources and information needed to complete each phase of the project and call out issues. Issues may be genuine problems or blockers at work.
  • Project management tools. Project management tools give everyone a single view into the work that needs to be done, critical dependencies, and bottlenecks. Slow completion rates or stalled work may turn out to be a genuine process problem, or it may be the handiwork of blockers. Either way, having the insight to pinpoint the problem will help ensure the momentum and productivity of the entire team.

The Saltire Capital Partners difference: integrity, fidelity, bravery. 

Our team is expert at navigating organisational dynamics to assemble “best fit” teams across different disciplines and corporate cultures that achieve every client’s commercial goals. Our expertise comes from first-hand experience working inside “The Big Four” and from collaboration with other large, complex, and matrixed organisations.

Saltire Capital Partners is an established boutique corporate advisory firm. Weighty Procurement guidelines don’t force our engagement with preferred suppliers. We don’t sell our clients with the A-team, then deliver a B-team to manage execution. Nor are we obliged to work with any parties who don’t align with our company values of integrity, fidelity, and bravery.

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