Company politics are an unfortunate reality in many workplaces, but there are steps you can take to reduce the pervasiveness, its impact on projects, and improve your company culture.
Workplace 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 can stem from one individual to multiple areas within an organization and can have a devastating impact. Some forms of politics are blatant and obvious, while others can be more passive and even go completely undetected. The nature and severity of politics can range 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 to 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.
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 vendors relationships as well.
Here are just some of the political behavior employees, stakeholders, team members, sponsors, or even leaders engage in, and some things you as a PM can do to minimize their impact.
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 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.
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 the differing experience or views.
Moira Alexander, PMP, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, is a recognized project management influencer, thought leader, a regular correspondent for PMI’s Projectified podcast, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PMWorld 360 Magazine, Founder of Lead-Her-Ship Group, and author of “LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership”. Moira has over 25 years of experience in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada and has been quoted in various publications including Forbes. She writes thought leadership content for top-tier publications and business blogs and oversees or writes sponsored content and software reviews on PMWorld 360 Magazine.