How to survive and thrive in the politics of your organisation

In every organisation, people will play politics for personal gain or sectional interests. On the darker side, more organisations are diseased by internal politics than their bosses dare to admit. But internal politics need not be characterised by dirty tricks, back-stabbing, manoeuvring, and skulduggery. Indeed, it is possible to survive and thrive by legitimate and acceptable means. The following suggestions will help you to become a politically astute manager...

1. Assume that political undercurrents run through your organisation.

Political behaviour exists in all organisations because of the presence of hierarchical structures, power, influence, and human beings. Indeed, whenever we do something to affect other people's perceptions of us and our work, or to gain power and credibility in the organisation, we act politically. Politics is all-pervasive, working constantly beneath the surface. Learn to play the game, or you'll be left behind.

2. Know what it means to play politics.

You become politically astute when you become skilled at working your way up the promotional ladder and gaining power within the organisation. You display your political ingenuity when you hold influence, have many loyal followers, and can get your ideas, views, actions, and yourself recognised and accepted. This ingenuity can take either of two forms - one manipulative and devious, the other legitimate and acceptable to the majority…

  • The dirty face of organisational politics is the scheming and self-seeking that advances one's career or sectional interests regardless of what's best for the organisation. It is characterised by back-biting, white-anting, self-interest, lip-service, cheating, misinformation, lying, crawling, point-scoring, treachery, and back-stabbing. Only unprincipled people adopt these behaviours and in such an organisational culture, an overall climate of mistrust develops.
  • The acceptable face of internal politics is the struggle between individuals and groups who all have the best interests of the organisation at heart, but disagree on what those interests are and how they might best be served.

Organisational politics is often equated with self-serving actions that can hurt others and the company. But it can operate both ethically and appropriately. It is a personal choice.

3. Listen, observe, and learn how to play the game.

Develop political awareness by seeing and hearing what happens in your organisation. Ask yourself:

  • What gets people promoted?
  • Who's in the 'in' crowd and who's 'out'?
  • Who's got the real power?
  • Who are the opinion leaders?
  • Who supports whom, and why?
  • Who are the fence-sitters?
  • Who is the competition - their age? experience? background? attitudes? abilities? prospects?
  • Who are the ideas people, the cautious people, the risk-takers, and the blockers?
  • Who makes the decisions?

By being observant and patient, you can learn to recognise and use behaviour politically advantageous in your workplace.

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