How Company Politics Can Impede Your Projects

by Moira Alexander

Whether you recognize it as office politics, company politics, corporate politics, or workplace politics, it’s an unfortunate reality in many companies. The impact of workplace politics on projects and company culture can create wide-spread problems if not addressed quickly. There are steps you can take to reduce this.

What’s corporate culture?

Workplace or corporate politics are ultimately types of behaviors or actions injected into business situations that can complicate, impede, or derail progress altogether. Politics and its impact are often underestimated until it’s too late. However, you can mitigate the risk, and the first step is to identify the type and level of political behaviors that might curtail the efforts of a project, program, portfolio, or even an entire organization.

Political games

Political games can stem from one individual to multiple areas within an organization and can have a devastating impact on projects and company culture overall. Some forms of workplace politics are blatant and obvious, while others can be more passive and even go completely undetected. The nature and severity of politics can vary depending on the level within the organization and motivations, but make no mistake, even the most seemingly minor politics can have a far-reaching effect on morale, trust, and the project outcome. Further, the outcome rarely plays out only at the project level; it more often than not has a negative consequence for a business as a whole. Sometimes, the effects of political behaviors may not be felt until they snowball and become a larger problem that can jeopardize long-term strategic goals.

The impact of workplace politics on projects—and company culture

If unaddressed, workplace politics becomes interwoven in the overall culture and typically intertwines itself throughout the executive, sponsor, middle management, project team, support staff, and stakeholder ranks, and could potentially degrade vendor relationships as well.

Political behaviors in the workplace

Here are just some of the political behaviors employees, stakeholders, team members, sponsors, or even leaders engage in, and some things you, as a PM, can do to minimize their impact of workplace politics on projects.

1. Constantly blaming others for problems

At the beginning of any project or initiative, the tone needs to be set and clearly communicated by portfolio, program, and project leaders to reduce senseless finger-pointing. While accountability for mistakes is an important factor, pointing fingers and laying blame rarely results in improvements; it often instead leads to embarrassment, mistrust, and future cover-ups.

2. Seeking to develop relationships only with senior-level employees/management who can help with career advancement

Business and project professionals need to lead by example by demonstrating they value the contributions of employees at all levels. It’s simply not enough to lend lip service; project leaders are also relationship management professionals who can work alongside executives to set the culture by fostering positive, supportive relationships regardless of hierarchy.

3. Seeking to create barriers between upper management and other employees

In order for employees at all levels to be fully vested in the success of all projects, the executive, program, portfolio, and project leaders should encourage the flow of great ideas from bottom to top, regardless of where they originate. It may also be beneficial to the success of a project if a PM can facilitate meetings between applicable business leaders and other employees. As I’ve said before, “a great idea is a great idea, regardless of where it comes from.” Barriers are not in the best interest of stakeholders and instead set companies up for larger deficiencies later. The impact of workplace politics on projects and company culture can run throughout the entire chain of command and have devastating repercussions in the long term.

4. Creating conflict at every turn without being part of the solution.

At the start of each project, a PM should communicate expectations and convey that prior to bringing up any problems, an individual must also come prepared with potential solutions. This creates teams of critical thinkers always thinking forward and focusing on project success rather than failure.

5. Supporting or advancing only those employees who align with self-serving views or goals.

It’s human nature to gravitate towards those whose views and opinions align with our own, but as a business or project leader, this should not be the case. A project manager should not inject personal bias nor impact progress. Often, real progress and innovation come about through differing experiences or views.

A project professional should encourage and explore diversity in approaches in order to find the best solutions for stakeholder interests. This may involve entering into difficult discussions with senior management about the benefits of views from different vantage points. The focus should always remain solely on the stakeholders.

6. Inappropriately leveraging personal influence.

Personal influence isn’t a bad thing if it’s with good intentions and careful thought. However, this is a significant problem in the workplace and often undermines the valuable efforts of others while serving the needs of only a few. The impact of workplace politics on projects can, however, be severe if intentions are self-serving. Being an effective project manager isn’t just about using your technical, job-related skills and knowledge; it’s also about employing other softer skills, such as the ability to recognize hidden problems.

Project leaders should keep close tabs on the progress of initiatives, as things can take a sudden turn in the wrong direction. When this happens for no apparent reason, misguided and often self-serving influence may be at the root. A PM has a responsibility to continually remind all parties to limit influence towards furthering stakeholder needs only and not their own agendas.

PM leadership at all levels should work diligently to pay attention to these and other more subtle destructive behaviors that can compromise relationships and project tasks. Once these behaviors have been uncovered, a PM professional should work with sponsors/executives to address them directly, immediately, and fully before moving on. Unresolved issues like subtle sabotage and cover-ups can be highly damaging at every level of business and destroy project gains.

7. Seeking ways to leverage the knowledge of others without reciprocating.

Sharing of knowledge in and of itself is an educational process. A PM should strive to convey to all project participants the benefits of knowledge sharing as well as the risks to project objectives of not doing so. Project leaders can also help to alleviate individual fear and insecurities as they arise since this is usually at the root of withholding knowledge. Helping in this regard creates a more cohesive environment for team members and makes it easier to share knowledge and collaborate more openly. This also strengthens your company culture overall.

8. Spreading gossip or lies about others.

This particular issue is very difficult to get around, as chatter is a natural part of human nature to some extent (when not destructive). It is important for project management professionals to lead by example and set expectations about appropriate behavior right out of the gate. A PM should convey they expect mutual respect and support among team members and others and that gossip and lies will not be accepted. Sometimes, it may be a simple matter of explaining how damaging gossip is to peers and how it influences everyone’s morale and productivity.

9. Taking credit for the work, effort, or ideas of subordinates and others.

Credit grabbing is another area that can prove highly problematic for project managers everywhere. No employee appreciates another employee or leader undeservedly taking credit for his or her work. As a project manager, make it your business to keep abreast of the work being done, recognizing, disclosing, and, where possible, rewarding the appropriate individuals, not just their superiors. Very often, management receives the credit or takes the credit for the work of their employees. This can lead to a lack of trust among employees and ultimately sabotage future efforts. Recognition should go directly to the individual who made the contribution; most employees don’t mind sharing some of the credit when they are fairly recognized and compensated for their own hard work. Furthermore, if employees believe their contributions are not valued or recognized, they often withdraw or reduce participation and eventually withhold information.


How project leaders can address workplace politics and behaviors

Maintaining a positive project and company culture means project leaders need to work on improving morale throughout every stage by remaining transparent, fair, and open, along with regular communication. A project manager who keeps two-way communication flowing and is respectful to everyone is more likely to catch gaps in participation faster.

While there are many other motivations for political behavior in the workplace and projects, PM professionals can address many of these with the help of business leaders. The key is being expedient and sincere in seeking the best solution to help project teams, functional leaders, and sponsors achieve stakeholder goals without compromising their value in the process.


All content: Copyright 2018 by—IDG Enterprise Inc., 492 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham, MA. 01701.


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