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