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How to Deal With Pushback to Your Idea for a Collaborative Work Project

A woman holding her head.

If you’ve been following our series on the benefits of working across departments, you probably have gotten excited about the possibilities of developing strong relationships with your coworkers, using your skills in a new way, and enhancing your professional development. This article focuses on one of the areas you may have been avoiding- what to do if you experience hesitancy from your manager or directors in regards to your proposed cross-departmental project. While it may feel like a letdown to consider this possibility, it’s helpful to be prepared before you even propose your idea. Anticipate the pushback so that you can be equipped with workarounds should you meet it head-on:

What might be the arguments against your proposal?

Anticipate the possible reasons your manager may give that would squelch your proposal’s flame before it even had a chance. What are your manager’s typical fears and concerns when it comes to new ideas? How does your manager relate to and deal with change? What safeguards can you put in place to instill a sense of security that your management of the project will go smoothly and be in line with the organization’s needs? If you have an idea of what your manager’s hesitations will be, address them when you first bring up your proposal in a way that allows your manager to feel confident about your project.

Are you known for being adaptable?

Be honest now- are you normally agreeable and adaptable when you are tasked with new projects by your manager? If you tend to push back yourself and grumble when asked to take on different (or more) work, don’t be surprised if your requests are not considered. In order to have your ideas respected, show that you see value in your assigned job responsibilities and take pride in your work whether it is a task that was given to you or one you proactively requested. If your supervisor is unsure of how well you adapt to new situations, you might want to provide evidence. It may not be that they doubt your abilities, but rather they just haven’t seen you in action in this manner before. If that’s the case, give concrete examples that showcase your attributes in these areas.

Also, if you are not known to be agreeable among your colleagues, who will want to work on an interdepartmental project with you? You may need to improve your relationships with your coworkers before you introduce your idea for a collaborative effort.

Are there differences of opinion regarding your organization’s priorities?

Is your boss really “derailing your train” or do they have a valid opinion on what to prioritize? How might you be able to support their idea of what is most important at this time? When you can deliver as a reliable right-hand (wo)man, you provide evidence of your capabilities. Show your supervisor that you can manage a project well and trust their judgement on organizational priorities. Consider asking your manager to revisit your idea in the next few months, after you’ve completed the project that took precedence.

Remember that just because your project has not been embraced enthusiastically by the directors of your organization does not mean it’s over before it even started. There are some strategies you can use to course-correct for revisiting the idea in the future:

Ask why

If you feel your idea is being dismissed, ask what your manager’s genuine perceptions are. Ask why they are saying no at this time. Your manager may actually have a good reason for holding off on the project. Remember that they may be privy to confidential organizational details that you are not (for example, a major campaign coming up, loss of funding, a new initiative that will require a lot of time and manpower). One of these may mean that your project will not have the resources you thought it would. It may be a matter of “now is not the right time” rather than your project never getting started.

Share the research

Without belaboring your point, share a few statistics that are in favor of cross-departmental teams. Mention case studies that illustrate organizations like yours who have used collaborative teams successfully and what they were able to accomplish as a result.

It’s not your manager, it’s their manager

Perhaps your manager loves your idea but anticipates (or has already received) pushback from their own manager or other organization leaders. If you think your manager won’t get buy-in from his manager, ask what supporting details they need to feel confident in making the case. Be factual, informative, and helpful when building your case.

Ask to visit your idea in the future

Be understanding that your proposal may not be a current top priority, but ask to reopen the conversation at a later date. Your organization’s needs and priorities may change by then. In the meantime, observe day-to-day operations and make tweaks to your proposal as needed. Show that you have the organization’s best interests in mind and are thoughtful in the way you designed your cross-departmental project. When situations arise in which a cross-departmental team would be helpful, make a gentle (and devoid of an “I told you so” tone) suggestion that refers back to your idea.

By Victoria Crispo

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