Politics is inevitable wherever there are groups of people and wherever there are blocs of people competing for the same set of scarce resources. In this context, it is indeed the case that organizations have their own share of office politics due to the prevalence of power centres and interest groups each with competing and conflicting agendas.
The fact that even organizations are constrained by resources such as how much money to allocate for each project and to which department as well as how many people to allocate for these aspects means that a certain element of political jockeying for these resources manifests itself.
The key to organizational success is how well the leaders manage the competing and conflicting agendas and how well they “take all factions along” in their decision making. Indeed, there are numerous examples of corporates where boardroom battles are the norm rather than the exception due to the presence of various groups each with its own agenda.
This is the reason why some leading business leaders often find that the “ground beneath their feet” is slipping suddenly and without notice and in other cases, they can sense that something is afoot and hence, prepare accordingly.
The other aspect of organizational politics manifests itself when there is a power vacuum in the sense that in times when CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) have to be appointed, the political jockeying “comes out into the open” wherein each aspiring senior leadership figures puts his or her own case as to why they should be appointed the CEO.
Indeed, this is the most common aspect of organizational politics wherein when the time comes to appoint the CEO, often one sees the various factions bring their battles out into the open. Considering the fact that the Board of Directors has the final say, it is also the case that each aspirant contacts the various board members individually or in groups to push their case forward.
Without taking names of specific corporates, it must be noted that there are many Fortune 100 companies where the Boardroom battles have become in recent times.
As mentioned earlier, the real challenge for business leaders is to ensure that such Boardroom battles and intra-organizational politics do not harm the interests of the organizations. Indeed, the most famous business leaders in the history of the corporate world have become successful and famous mainly because of their ability to balance the competing and conflicting agendas of rival factions and ensure that they do not harm the organizational interests “beyond a point”.
For instance, there are many corporates where organizational politics has resulted in attrition of employees especially the middle management figures who aligned with different factions often leave the organization with their group members when their interests are not taken care of. Indeed, this can cause significant organizational damage as such attrition tends to result in lower morale and demoralization of the rank and file employees.
This is the reason why many corporates have Boards that are designed and composed of members who can handle such conflicts without harming the organization. Moreover, the most successful corporates are those who can adopt a consensual rather than confrontational approach to organizational politics wherein they ensure that each faction is taken along in the overall interests of the organization.
Having said that, it must also be noted that there are politics at each level of the organization and hence, it is always not the case that the Boards have to get involved in each instance. Indeed, the history of the corporate world is replete with examples where the middle managers become powerful in their own right because of their expertise and experience.
Hence, they become power centres wherein they determine who gets promoted and why and who gets the share of the resources in opposition to other groups. While some amount of such jockeying by the middle managers is good from the perspective of autonomy and decentralization of power, at the same time, this can also lead to loss of control by the senior management if not checked in time.
This is often the case with governmental bureaucracies wherein the middle level bureaucrats often “run the show” and are immune and impervious to accountability because of their power.
Apart from this, the other aspect of organizational politics is that power centres tend to form and coalesce along regional, ethnic, and linguistic lines especially in countries such as India where the staggering diversity of the employees along with the attendant human tendency to “bond with their own” means that many corporates fall prey to such dynamics.
Throughout the discussion so far, we have suggested that organizational leaders should manage the politics without harming the organization. However, the fact that ethnic and regional divisions can seriously harm the organizations means that even the senior leadership figures are sometimes members of such groups.
This can harm the organizational interests far beyond any other political jockeying and hence, the contention here is that formation of such groups must be discouraged right from the top of the hierarchy lest they lead to ugly situations and completely unnecessary conflicts.
Finally, it is human to indulge in politics and hence, some form of political jockeying is inevitable in organizations. However, as has been emphasized throughout this article, it is only when such politics becomes unbearable and “crosses the line” between routine power plays and enters the critical phase of undermining the very fabric of the organizations that the leaders do not have a tough task at hand.
In conclusion, prevention is better than cure and hence, such instances must be “nipped in the bud” before they morph into situations that can result in damage to the organizations.