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Clean Politics?

For a long time I thought business politics was a dirty word. I guess I wasn't alone – this is from Wikipedia: “…. organizational politics are by definition: The pursuit of individual agendas and self-interest without regard to their effect on the organization’s efforts to achieve its goals…. See also Coworker backstabbing, Cronyism, Gaming the system, Nepotism, One-upmanship, Psychological manipulation, Workplace bullying …”. What a doctrine of dirty deeds! 

But the thing that really bugged me was people crying “politics” as a cop-out. They used it when they felt victimized by other people’s behavior – behavior they didn't understand, so must be motivated by at least one of the seven deadly sins. Sure, it can feel like you've been stabbed in the back, but it’s more useful to look for communication disconnects than evil intent. Though revenge can taste sweet, it’s more productive to work on shared understanding than to pick up a sword. 

So, politics can mean dirty deeds, and it can mean miscommunication. But there’s another definition of politics that recognizes a critical role in business: politics is “… the realistic process of making decisions and allocating resources in the context of scarcity and divergent interests.”*  

This version of politics is always needed because reality always outpaces our ability to fully understand it, and each of our understandings is somewhat (or very) unique. Effective teams reason and analyze, pool their understandings, and listen to each other. However, there can be a point when there is no clear “right answer”, and someone has to use their best judgment to make a decision. This gives rise to the stuff of politics, the stuff that makes an organization like an arena:

  • Authority – who makes the final judgment, and how do I influence them?
  • Conflict – how are conflicts resolved, and how do I win?
  • Coalition – who are my friends, and how can we help each other? 

So, depending on which lens you look through, an organization can look like a factory, a family, or an arena. In our next post we will explore a fourth perspective: organization as a theater. 

 --Tom

 *Bolman, Lee G. and Deal, Terrance E.  . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint, 2003.


5 Comments to Clean Politics?:

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Jeff on Thursday, January 03, 2013 1:41 PM
Spot on Tom. As someone who works in politics and technology, I find this spot on. "Politics" can mean alot of things, but in the context of an effective business organization (and a functional society), it is important to remember that politics is also "the realistic process of making decisions and allocating resources in the context of scarcity and divergent interests."
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Tom Robertson on Friday, January 04, 2013 10:48 AM
Thanks for your comment, Jeff. It's fascinating how something so human and so useful can symbolize such different things to different people!
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www.thinkingteams.net on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:13 PM
Manager); or an    “Arena” – creating a transparent, fair space to engage divergent interests and allocate scarce resources (Clean Politics); or a  “Theater” – articulating the symb
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politics dissertation on Thursday, December 12, 2013 2:42 AM
Nice Blog post !!!This version of politics is always needed because reality always outpaces our ability to fully understand it, and each of our understandings is somewhat (or very) unique.You have really helped several of individuals like me, who have been searching internet from past quite a long time to find detailed information on this particular topic. Thanks a ton.
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shane watson on Monday, January 13, 2014 3:32 AM
Great post!! Thanks to you! Finally I got some stuff in your blog post related. I was searching for some material related to matter included in post. Very useful and very informative. Thanks once again and do share some more posts if you have!
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