Organizational Politics

Another overused but not fully understood term is: Politics. We used this word to describe some working place phenomena:

  • When we say the managers fight with each about the ownership of certain projects, we say these are politics.
  • Many people expressed their preference to work in an environment with less politics. So it sounds like politics are often treated as a bad example for many people.

But what is organizational politics?The formal definition of organizational politics is the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non-sanctioned means and the art of creative compromise among competing interests.

There is less formal definition: organizational politics refers to a variety of activities associated with the use of influence tactics to improve personal or organizational interest. The key elements in the organizational politics is: it is about personal interest.

How does people think about organizational politics? There has been two traditional point of views:

  • The first tradition defines politics in terms of self-interest and the use of non-sanctioned means.
  • The second tradition treats politics as a necessary function resulting from differences in the self-interests of individuals.

Organizational Political Activities

We can use two dimensions to map the political activities:

  • The level of political activity: individual level or organizational level.
  • The extent to which the source of power is soft(informal) or hard(formal).

According to the two dimension above, Michael Jarrett could classify the organizational political activities into four types:

  • The weeds

In this level, the political activities are mainly through the informal power, for example, the influence and informal networks.

A typical example can be, a manager used his personal influence to convince a member of another team to make the decision that is better for the manager’s team. Such was of influence or manipulating is very common. As a manager, developing informal channel where you can use your influence is important.

The question for us is: how do we deal with weeds political activities? First of all, trying to understand how the informal networks works. Identify the key brokers so that you can increase your own influence. And you could develop a counter-narrative and strengthening connections with other networks.

  • The Rocks

In this quadrant, the political activities are mainly about individual interactions and the formal power, such as title, role, expertise, or access to resources.

A typical example of such political activities is that a executives might constantly question the decisions agreed with the management team, just because of the potential conflicts with his personal interest. In such activities, he used his personal power to defend his personal interest rather than the company interest.

The best way of handling such political activities is to redirect the entry of a dysfunctional leader, through reasoned argument or applying to their interests.

  • The High Ground

The high ground activities are to combine the formal authority with organizational systems. This term is used to describe the rules, structures, policy guidelines, and procedures that form the basis of political activities.

How much procedure we want to introduce to the organization has been an essential question for managers. The procedure provides a check against the whims of individual level, however, it might also be used as a politics device to challenge the interest that are not aligned with the bureaucrats, or to prevent the innovations.

In order to overcome the procedure, you might declare that a special working group needs to be set up in order to solve an issue or bridge the silos. These special working groups would help overcome the producers.

Formalize a special working group or committee can often speed things up. Managers sometimes attempted to use this approach, however, it could be disruptive to the current team, and might result in overly relying on the special group.

What else can you do to overcome these politic procedures? You might try to convince people that not making change is more riskier than trying something new.

  • The Woods

The woods refer to the informal normals, hidden assumptions and unspoken routines. How do you overcome these political activities? You might do that by bringing the hidden assumptions to the surface: it is totally okay to ask stupid question on the first place.

As management team member, we need utilize the positive dynamics of the politics, while avoid the traps in the political terrains. For example, if we are able to influence the decision making on other team to move the project, we should definitely use it. On the other hand, we also need to be aware of the politics traps, for example, the long procedure to get the project approved by certain team.

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