The political games of business

The political games of business

Whether you are a solopreneur or a large corporation political games will appear no matter what you do, the mere fact of interacting with other people inside or outside of your organisation is the starting point of political seed capital. I naievely thought leaving the world of management consulting firms and hierarchical structures would free me from all things inner politics and whilst it is hard to have a political argument with the boss in the mirror, networking and belonging to professional associations showed me in more than one sense that I was wrong and that politics are just part of business.

In my ideal world business should be based on merit and transactions, business decisions and negotiations transparent for all parties to have an equal chance. I would also base my judgements on integrity and ensuring the greater good of everyone is looked after whether this is staff, suppliers or customers; so I guess idealistically a little on the ambitious side.

It is funny though that intelligent people with great track records often have to resort to intentionally or not taking other people down either with them or on their own rather than dealing with the issue or the person in front of them. I have always tried to be fair and objective in my management of people and sometimes this has come accross exactly like this and for others it was a personal conflict, so there is the challenge even with the best managerial intent we may have a mixed or distorted response. In times of change and in change management I always reinforce the importance of communication and then follow-up on promises.

When I look at some of the larger organisations where I deliver training and their inner political game playing, I often wonder whether all children should have been thaught military strategy games in school in order to survive in today’s corporate structures. I also wonder whether acting should maybe become mandatory so you can manage your way through to the corporate top by delivering oscar winning performances. Then again I also wonder whether lie detector tests should be part of team meetings some times. It is amazing how seriously inept management is often what remains whilst all the talented and great people leave in their droves.

I am bemused, amused and entertained by some of the things I see as an outsider when visiting companies, I am also one of the first to react and point it out when given a chance and when I was an employee I always challenged the status quo when I felt it was the right thing to do. I respect an honest manager that is willing to sit down and give me the hard message straight, but seriously doubted the wishy washy soldier which seems to prevail and hide behind non-communication and hierarchy.

Eric Berne in his book ‘The games people play’ described human interactions years ago and his transactional theory is still booming in most companies and organisations, I would even say that the recession has made the theory thrive in is application and widespread practice. Put a number of ambitious people in a room, set goals for them and then let them self-organise the achievement of those and without any effort you have a political game. The cause is not important it could be profit, service or just the greater good of mankind. The moment people collide the seeds and components are there to ignite a minor power struggle, a major work-to-rule scenario or even a flawless operation. In a funny way it’s why I love people watching and often find myself smiling when I listen to the stories of friends in corporations in a detached manner, when it involves me I am usually just as involved, frustrated and animated as the next person, but I guess I will tend to gather information, weigh up options, talk it through with a trusted few and then communicate or act as fair and objective as I can (and maybe that is just me daydreaming about my ideal response).

One thing I learned early on in my working life and that is that there are always 2 sides to every problem, so when you can find out the facts at least then you have an educated view, if empathy is necessary apply it, but only when your point stands up go fight your battles. In networking organisations which is what I frequent as a small business owner, I always found that there are people you can trust from the get-go and then there are also power hungry who apply crab mentality whenever they see fit, as in if someone is on the way up they do their utmost to pull them back down to group level, so nobody would stand out as better or worse than the next person.

In my business coaching, the most stressful situations for clients come from political games and I often work with executives in helping them realise the rules of the game, uncovering the patterns and obviously examining their responses to it all. When you are in the middle of a political minefield it is easy to doubt your own ability and decision making, which will in turn show your vulnerability and opens up a chance for others to attack the core of you. In my work with clients I work on the issue they are dealing with at the time to start of with, often putting them into different perspectives and once they have a handle on the immediate problem then we look at the core individual responses.

Some of the political games in business we instigate ourselves, I had one client who when he was bored just for the fun of it stirred up problems in other areas, when his management asked me to coach him, they also said he is the best in his area but if he could just leave the rest of the organisation in peace. So with him I addressed his boredom and guidelines as to when he could justify escalating or questioning other peers. Since we worked together his managers have come back and found peace and co-operation had returned in the office and everyone had become more productive including this manager. So some political games start with simple boredom.

In a project early last year I coached a number of middle managers reporting into what I would call a relatively dogmatic/dictatorial or old school senior manager. Each and everyone of the middle managers were intelligent, capable and seriously experienced in their respective jobs, yet the management style from the next level up had them distrust their own judgement, working late just to double check and make sure and also they felt isolated and unable to speak to each other, because each of them believed that they must have been the only weakling amongst the pack. I found that fascinating that dogmatic leadership had such a profound effect on what I found very intelligent and able people. Little by little they gained their power back thanks to my coaching and building up their confidence, when they did start talking and came together as a group they also managed to turn around the attitude of their senior manager which was an added bonus.

Always know who you are playing with when engaging in business politics and get to know what triggers you, how it shows up for you and whether the other side can actually harm you or not. When engaging in a fight at any level always look for one ally whether it is an internal or objectve party, politics is best done when you have someone that you can turn to for sanity. In politcal games there rarely are clear winners, so pick your battles wisely and note that some are just not worth fighting. If you give a sail wind, it will travel and gain momentum, take away the wind then the boat stop in it’s tracks and sometimes this is the only way around a political situation.

If you are the one engaging in political warfare and you need an ally in your corner, we are happy to do this for you confidentially of course. In the mean time have fun observing patterns, discovering the rules of the game and being selective about the battles you take on.