Understanding Company Politics

We have recently gone over the aspects that have an effect on company politics, such as power & influence. With that knowledge under our belt, I would now like to delve deeper into the actual topic of company politics.

What Is Company Politics?

If you look at people around us, and they way they act and behave, you may find yourself questioning "Why didn't they just ask the question straight out?" or "Why did you have to be subversive?". This doesn't only happen in the workplace, but in our personal lives as well. For example, you may have heard a spouse say "When I want him/her to do something for me, that is what I do/say" or "If I ask them in this manner, I'm usually sure to get it" so politics are all around us.

If we look at the definition of company politics, it will go somewhere along the lines of...

Informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes methods of influence to obtain some ends, be it ideas, power or some other objective, that is not approved by the organization

In other words, if there isn't a clear way to obtain your ends, you will do it through company politics. In doing this, you often have a specific result as the goal that you are trying to achieve. It is important when you sense company politics come into play, you ask yourself two questions that may help you better understand the situation

  • Why they are doing this?
    Try to identify the actual goal that they are trying to achieve. Often this may be masked and covered up, but you need to look deep and try uncover what the real agenda is.

  • What are they doing it for?
    You need to question if they are doing this for the organization or for their own personal benefit.

Political Organizational Areas

There are often times where an organization leaves any sense of rational thought behind and becomes very political in nature. The following are some of the most common areas that you will politics come into play.

  • Resources
    You will often see that when there are scarce, critical resources in an organization there is an increase in the politics as well. By resources, I not only mean the people of the company but the tools to do your job.

    For example, you may have seen that when there are a batch of new laptops delivered to the company, people will often start wondering who will give up the old and claim the new spiffy ones with loads of RAM and fast CPUs.

  • Decisions
    When your long term commitments are very unclear and complex, you will often find that it will cause more politics than your run of the mill, everyday decisions.

    In knowing this, you can reduce the amount of politics when you are introducing a change strategy by breaking the complex items down into simpler tasks and then by making things clearer and not leaving it to peoples imaginations to guess and speculate upon. If there are resources available, you can also state who will be allocated them and provide the reasoning why, if necessary.

  • Goals
    This point is very similar to the one above in the sense that the more fuzzy and complex the goals are, the more politics there will be. As with the point above, in order to reduce this, you can apply the same process where you attempt to make things simpler and clearer.

  • Environment
    When there is a lot of turbulence, or lack of structure, in an environment you will find that there is a significant amount of politics in play. In order to mitigate this, you will need to bring some order and structure into it as this will reduce the politics. It is important that you don't stifle the people in the environment with to much regulations as this can go in the complete opposite direction and actually suppress creativity and freedom of thought, which is important to quite a few people.

    If you are interested, Jim Collins has an interesting chapter in his book Good to Great titled, "A Culture of Discipline" which covers some of the issues of having to much red tape in an organization.

  • Change
    Whenever these is some sort of change, be it planned or unplanned, it will often cause an increase in politics. Examples of when this may occur is when there is some form of reorganization or some sort of organizational development.

As you can see there are quite a few factors coming into play when it comes to company politics, so it is no wonder that this has become common place amongst most organizations today.

People's Decisions

When the political games get out of hand, you will often find that the entire organization becomes completely focused on the politics, which diverts them from their actual goals and objectives. When it comes to the people that actually work inside these political environments they tend to take one of two main options, namely

  • Stay
    If the person chooses to stay, there are two paths in which they can take

    • Contribute - They can continue contributing to the organization and often this is seen as loyalty.
    • Change - They may chose to stay and attempt to change the organization for the better.
  • Leave
    If they have had enough of the politics, people might just pack up and leave as opposed to continuously trying to fight the system.

Like I have mentioned before they reasons for these political games are often used for personal benefit. However, it is important to be aware that this isn't always the case as there are positive politics, where the benefit is for everyone in the company. Now that we know what company politics are and how they tend to manifest themselves, in the next post I would like to look into the various ways in which we can navigate them.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa