5 Questions to Ask About Your Organization’s Politics

Politics in an organization is about influencing others by using official and unofficial power. Official power comes from management titles while unofficial power comes from peers, juniors and even outsiders. Everyday in organizations official and unofficial power is used to: (1) frame problems, (2) influence changes and (3) make/guide decisions. This power can affect organizational structures, business processes, technologies and even innovation. Thus, it becomes imperative that organizations understand this power and how this power can affect organizational cultures. However, despite the strong relationship between politics and culture, most organizations are unaware, unwilling and/or unprepared to address it. The three main reasons politics is not directly addressed is because of:

  1. The inaccurate thinking that politics is always negative
  2. The fallacy that politics only happens at an individual’s personal level
  3. The inability to understand how politics can destroy/enhance capabilities

An organization’s politics is the total complex of relationships between people inside and outside of organizational boundaries. What this means is that people play politics even if they are unaware of it. While these people might have the best of intentions but their experiences/biases may or may not be best for the entire organization. By not keeping this in mind, organizations might not be able to self-assess if the IT vs. Business tension is a myth or reality, if the most optimized and continuously improving processes are present, if the correct technology is being selected for collective efficiency, if the right people are asking the right questions and if questioning the status quo is just a checkmark. In order to understand politics, the following questions need to be asked:

Strategic Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who is incentivized at the executive level to understand politics? Who should be incentivized at the executive level to understand politics?
2. What governance structures are in place to address holistic vs. specific unit/function/team strategic needs? What governance structures should be in place to address holistic vs. specific unit/function/team strategic needs?
3. Where is technology being affected by politics? Where should technology affect politics?
4. When and how often political motivations are revealed? When and how often political motivations are revealed?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving strategic objectives? Why should political understanding be critical to achieving strategic objectives?

Tactical Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who is incentivized at the middle management level to understand politics? Who should be incentivized at the middle management level to understand politics?
2. What business units, functional areas and teams are included to bring forth political implications? What business units, functional areas and teams should be made aware of political implications?
3. Where technology hinders understanding politics? Where technology might hinder in understanding politics?
4. When is the start and end of political motivations? When should be the start and end of political motivations?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving tactical objectives? Why political understanding should be critical to achieving tactical objectives?

Operational Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who sees politics as an obstacle? Who might see political understanding as an obstacle?
2. What business processes provide views on the organization’s power plays? What business processes should provide views on the organization’s political boundaries?
3. Where is technology part of your understanding the organization’s politics? Where should technology be a part of understanding the organization’s politics?
4. When were you informed about the political objectives? When should you have been informed about political objectives?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving your daily tasks? Why political understanding should be critical to achieving your daily tasks?

Politics and culture are two sides of the same coin and each lurking in the shadows or showing in broad daylight to change the direction of the organization everyday. To address this, (1) be transparent, (2) create an atmosphere of trust, (3) be genuinely helpful across business units, functional areas and teams.

Politics-Culture