When most people hear the phrase “organizational politics,” they react very negatively. They see politics in the workplace as forming clicks and another way to keep those who go against the status quo labeled as an outsider. People also think that it’s a toxic dynamic that allows manipulative behaviors for people to get what they want by stepping on their co-workers’ backs. But not every instance of workplace politicking is a selfish maneuver to win.
The text “Building Great Teams: Charting the Path of Organizational Politics” (Book Surge, 2007) takes you inside one of the greatest team building organizations in the world, the United States Marine Corps, to examine and discover the strategies that business leaders must be willing to learn, use and employ for building ordinary groups into extraordinary teams; leading the right team of commandos who understand what it takes to win on the business battlefield and defeat workplace politics using warfare as the key to experience a significant win. The strategies within the text defines workplace and office politics as “the path to smart growth…using the power to accelerate the careers of high potential future leaders and teams power in the workplace.” It implies that office politics are not always negative, but offer opportunities for greatness. And while workplace politics aren’t necessarily avoidable, people can learn to understand their purpose, find their voice and understand how-to strengthen and build the teams dynamics and interpersonal communications skills – all while managing responsibilities with tact, poise, and polish.
The game of politics, when understood how-to use it as a strategic weapon, helps to successfully chart the path of personal and professional growth as the essential task to achieve personal mastery from the results of peak performance. Organizational politics also offers the hidden treasures that allow people to stand-out from the crowd. They learn to demonstrate their ability to navigate the maze of successful team building – a task that is viewed as positive organizational behavior from the individual that is perceived as an extraordinary leader. This is the type of person that others seek to follow and emulate for the greatness they wish to develop for themselves.
Workplace Politics vs. The Battlefield Engagement
Just as in any military engagement, in order to win one must know the rules better than his/her competitor to outsmart them on the battlefield. It also is beneficial to be a part of the right team for controlling the elements of the battlefront. However, some might claim the workplace and the military are very different in many ways. Thinking from this approach causes significant missteps in organizational politics. There are significant issues that are similar in the workplace and on a military battlefield. For starters, the one constant is “people.” Any time that people are involved in a scenario, decision-making must play a role in the ability to win. Using the strategies from the United States Marine Corps, people are responsible for making critical decisions from the highest ranking officer down to the lowest ranking enlisted – and the decision could mean life or death.
Well, the same goes for the workplace. People are responsible for making critical decisions that could mean that the organization acquires strategic assets (executive suite decisions) or that a customer is treated in a way that causes them to continue doing business with the organization. Both can be seen as life or death for the organization. As seen with Wachovia bank, a decision from the top level leadership was made to acquire Westgate Financial to boost their mortgage business. When the U.S. mortgage markets and industry imploded during the financial crisis, the organization was effected with incredible implications – it became the beginning of the end for one of the country’s largest banks and people lost careers and more. Similar to the likes of a military battlefield engagement and a series of wrong decisions made by leadership, loss of life was experienced.
But what most people fail to realize is that the workplace is too a battlefield. Business is warfare and those who understand how to navigate the politics always win. Consider the game of chess. Chess can be low-key and quiet, a friendly game between friends. Or it can be explosive and highly competitive, set amid a crowd of observers, where the ultimate winner reaps world-wide accolades. Consider the skill behind the game of chess. It requires well-planned strategy and a great deal of mental acuity and patience, not to mention years of practice to reach an elite status.
These are the same skills required by a great leader, one who has the ability to guide an organization and one who understands the world of workplace politics. On the other hand, while playing a game such as chess, there can only be a single winner where there often can be a more neutral outcome in the world of workplace politics. With the proper skills of negotiation and influence, savvy leadership might be able to create a win-win situation.
The Truth about Politics in the Workplace
Politics will always be part of an organization because people are people. The dynamic relationships of individuals who run a business enterprise play an important part in how the business operates: How the mission map, posture statements, vision, values and organizational culture is forged. And while the average Jane or Joe might feel like they are being run over by co-workers who manipulate the system, bully, gossip, backstab and brown nose to get what they want, there is more to workplace politics than those negative daily encounters. The quintessential aspect of organizational politics is the team. Building great teams’ hits at one of the most discussed topics in business media and the workplace: Organizational Behavior, transformational leadership, organizational renewal and inter-office politics. The day of the individual worker is over, as today’s business arena demands that workers possess the ability to effectively work as team units that consistently produce extraordinary outcomes from their performance. It is a scenario all top leaders and managers knows well: The organization, their people, and their systems all require efficient and effective processes to remain constant in its approach to move quickly toward new and innovative ways of reaching mission-critical objectives.