Politics Sinks Companies, But It Doesn’t Have to Sink Yours

All organizations have politics. If there’s more than one person involved – or one person with split personalities – you will have politics. Whether a 50,000-person enterprise, a non-profit, a school, a small business or a club, there will be politics.

The question is: How do you minimize politics?

Remember that everyone has an agenda. Even keeping one’s head down and doing a job for the paycheck is an agenda. As you can imagine, so is sucking up to your boss for a promotion. But those are ordinary personal-level agendas. If this is the culture of the company the aggregate of these individual low level politics could be crippling, but these are not the politics that concern me.

I’m concerned about the kind of senior-level destructive politics that slows down the operations of a company. At this senior level key decisions are made, so when people jockey for their political interests, they are making – or more likely breaking – their companies.

At one large company I turned around, there were some old directors who wanted to continue in the manufacturing business, while other directors preferred to morph into a licensing company. As a result, valuable time was lost, resulting in a 6-month delay – and a ton of monetary losses – before the company pulled together on the project that would save them.

Now, a disagreement amongst board members is a healthy way of fleshing out the best ideas – and a normal process – but problems arise when a board member or senior manager tries to undermine the process of normal negotiations and discussions within the board by currying the favor of senior management or board members who skew assumptions and therefore strategies towards their desired outcome.

I’ve seen numerous companies fail for these reasons.

As a board member, manager or director, it’s your job to minimize the politics around you – and to recognize when you’re a culprit in creating those politics.

I don’t know that you can stop politics, but you can mitigate it. If you, as a manager, see politics going on, you need to nip it in the bud by speaking directly to people about their actions and emphasizing that by working as a team, you are all working towards the same goal: the success of your company.

The bigger a company becomes, the more layers of management are created and the more political the team gets – and the less “team” things become. No matter how big your company gets, try to keep your business from being too political. Life is too short for politics.

When internal politics heavily influences people’s behaviors, leaders don’t get the right answers quickly enough. When a business is in trouble, this results in a slower turnaround; even when a company is healthy, internal politics creates unnecessary barriers to honest communication and collaboration.

What kinds of politics does your company face? How do you handle them?

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