Political behavior is a phenomenon that has been present across interpersonal, group and organizational settings for many centuries, if not for thousands of years. In fact Aristotle, argued centuries ago that man is inherently a political animal and few have challenged the notion since then. This phenomenon has become increasingly important for corporate denizens to understand and take action, for their survival may depend on how they decode these signals. Researchers define politics as “The management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non sanctioned influence means.” Politics is innate to humans and even though modern corporate pundits paint it as being a “demon”, hiding from the truth does no good, it is better to be prepared rather than being sorry about it. These are the commonly observed tactics used by people for playing the political game.
Individuals in lower echelons of the organization to typically use this tactic to resist the formal authority and legitimate power, either individually or in small groups.
Managers and senior managers use this tactic to counteract the lower level attempts of insurgency.
This tactic is used by individuals of lower ranks within the organization who seek to align themselves with higher ranking individuals by offering their loyalty in return for status of an alliance with this higher ranking individual. In doing so, the higher power individual gets a loyal follower and the lower ranking individual gains an ally with more legitimate power than what he/ she could acquire individually.
Individuals will attempt to form a quid pro quid relationship with peers. A participant will offer his/ her support to the participants agenda in exchange for support of his/ her own agenda in return.
Middle and higher-ranking managers within the organization will seek and support the loyalty of lower ranking contributors in exchange for the status of alliance with a high-ranking position. This is very similar to the sponsorship game, simply viewed from the reverse perspective.
Rival players compete for financial resources in order to advance their particular agendas. Efforts to acquire the financial resources are often indirectly related to stated objectives, and the resources are sought for consolidating power or for discretionary use.
This tactic involves the use or withholding of information for personal gain. An individual can create an advantage for himself or herself by exploiting technical skills and knowledge or by withholding critical knowledge, skills or information in such a way that it puts competitors at a disadvantage.
This tactic involves the brandishing of formal and legitimate power of different types over those who have less of it. In this way the individual can create a larger perceived power distance in the relationship and thus create a perception among others that his or her legitimate power is greater than it actually is.
Line vs. Staff Game
This game is similar to the lording game, pitting technical experts from the staff ranks, who try to leverage their expertise as a form of power against the line managers, who attempt to leverage their legitimate powers over the staff.
This is perhaps, the most divisive and corrosive among political tactics, as it creates a zero sum game between rival coalitions. When two coalitions created through alliance or empire building find that their agendas are in completion with one another, they start using divisive and illegitimate tactics to undermine the efforts of other coalition while ensuring the success of their own. This reflects the classic kill or be killed scenario that is played and escalates till a victor emerges.
Managers at mid and senior levels in organizations use their ability to hire, promote or appoint individuals into strategic positions that will ultimately return favor by using their positions to help the manager achieve their own objectives.
This is a high stake strategy that involves questioning the legitimate powers of the organization or that of the individual in the highest levels of leadership. Younger and ambitious power players within the system question whether the old guard still has the correct strategy and ability to effectively govern the organization.
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Creating an organization that is free of toxic political behavior is likely an unattainable goal; it is within your reach to mitigate the conditions that allow such activity to thrive. As a manager you need to be aware of the factors that are the primary drivers in creating a consistently effective environment that mitigates political behaviors. Use the information provided above to create and execute proactive strategies for a healthier and cleaner culture devoid of corrosive political behavior.