Do you remember the Microsoft Windows game Minesweeper? You had a game board covered with squares that could contain bombs. The goal was to clear the board without blowing yourself up. It wasn’t impossible; but you needed to think through things and develop a strategy to accomplish the goal.
Organizational politics can be a lot like Minesweeper: You’re likely to blow up if you don’t consider a few things first.
Before we get to that, however, let’s define organizational politics. It’s the process of leveraging an informal network to accomplish a task or goal. Organizational politics can be negative when solely used to promote self-interest and the agenda of the individual over the well-being of the organization. Most of us associate organizational politics with negativity; but, it can be a positive practice when goals are accomplished by keeping the greater good of the organization in mind.
Good organizational politics begins with corporate understanding of the mission or goals, collaboration with others and an appreciation of both group and individual motivations.
Understand the Mission
Generally, employees understand the large, overarching goals of their organization. It becomes more difficult to recognize when you parse down to smaller organizational components and even harder still when we move into individual project teams. Although it may seem tedious, it’s important to draw the connection from the organization’s goals to your team’s mission. How does team mission map to organizational goals? If you are the team lead, help your team see the connection; and as a team member, seek to understand the links. Team leads should be able to lead you through project charters and keep you informed. When you engage in good organizational politics, your motivations help the organization in achieving its goals.
Getting things done is nearly impossible in today’s professional environment without working with others. Organizational goals are often complex and challenging. Going it alone is almost always a sure way to failure. That means aligning yourself with people who possess skills and networks that complement and add to your own talents. In good organizational politics, we collaborate with others to improve the organization’s abilities, even if that means reaching out to another team within the organization or an outside partnership. Success is more likely when individuals work together to achieve a common goal. In-fighting nearly always ends poorly, and rivalries should remain in sports, not business.
It’s easier to collaborate when you understand someone’s motivations, but don’t attach judgment to it. Motivations are motivations and it’s not up to us to determine if they are good or bad. Agendas becomes clear when we understand motivations, making it easier to work with people. But remember, it’s not just what people say that motivates them; it’s also their actions. Realizing motivations takes practice and patience, and being wrong at times is par for the course. Make the effort though. Once you identify someone’s motivation, opening certain doors becomes easier. You know how to present your case and who will be the best influencer to help you achieve your goal. In good organizational politics, organizational goals are also furthered.
While navigating organizational politics, never forget the importance of integrity and honesty. It doesn’t take long to smell a rat trying to manipulate people to better their own situation. On the other hand, coworkers also begin to recognize you as a team player — willing to get the job done and improve the organization with the proper drive. Working toward common goals or collaborating is the best way to engage organizational politics. Just like in Minesweeper, you may still hit a bomb occasionally, but you will succeed more often than you fail.