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Navigating organisational politics


"I refuse to become embroiled in office politics." This frequently used statement is generally intended to indicate that the speaker is focused at all times on an ethical approach, has no time for non-productive activities, maintains the moral high ground, and certainly would not stoop to devious means to achieve their goals.
This is a pretty strong statement for anyone to make, let alone live up to. However, it is fair to state that for the vast majority, the expression ‘office politics’ does have a bad connotation, and therefore is at the least seen as something which wastes time and energy, so few would engage in politicking if they can possibly avoid it.

But what about the assumption itself - that all ‘politics’ in organisations are deliberate, and worse still, maliciously intended? What if one was prepared to see things slightly differently and to recognise that in any organisation, if there are people, there will inevitably be relationships and dynamics? The situation shifts immediately from something to be shunned or criticised to a recognition that actively engaging to gain understanding and influencing those dynamics is central to a successful outcome for any member of the group, and the organisation as a whole.

Yet this is the truth of the situation. In the workplace, very few organisations consist of hand-picked people who have been specifically selected because of their compatibility with each other, even though care may have been taken to ensure their skills and experience are complementary. The make-up of teams changes, often at short notice, so the dynamics of the relationships within teams are just that – dynamic, and unpredictable.

So if these dynamics cannot be ignored, how should they be addressed? Here are a few points to consider for starters:

•    We are driven in everything we do because we perceive some benefit for ourselves. Try to understand what motivates your colleagues to behave in a certain way in a particular situation.
•    Look for specifics, avoid generalisations – no-one always behaves in a certain way.
•    Realise that finding ways to influence others is not being underhand or duplicitous.

Finally, being by accepting people as they are – offer trust and look for good intentions. Is that not how we would all like to be viewed?

Andy Johnson is a Partner at Change Partners.

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