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How Lessons Learned Apply

Learning provides the mechanism for improvement. We learn what does not work; we explore to find what may work, and experiment to ascertain what will work. We work to understand those things that limit our performance, hindering us from the objectives we wish to achieve, and then work with our team members to devise potential solutions to overcome these limitations, then experiment with these potential solutions, learning along the way. This continuous improvement is like the approach of Total Quality Management; though those books tend to focus on the technical portion of the work, this book will explore the employee and team aspects required to make something like Total Quality Management work, along with a review of the tools that can be used to help.

Inhibitors To Communication

There are many things that get in the way of communications. The structure of the organization as well as the organizations culture impact the level of open discourse and achieving the corporate objectives along with consistent learning. In this section we will delve into some of these obstructions to communication and how they are counter to Organizational Development.

Conflicting Priorities

One of the inhibitors to communications is conflicting priorities, objectives, and competing needs for resources of the organization, as well as an individual’s personal goals and objectives. These conflicts are not necessarily team conflicts although these may be linked. These conflicts are not due to politics or team and us versus them root causes, but more a struggle for optimum use of resources and available talent, as well as an attempt to keep their respective priorities in front of the executives. Of course, these things set up the office politics aspects of working in the organization.

Office Politics Is defined as

(business) (functioning as singular or plural) the ways that power is shared in an organization or workplace, and the ways that it is affected by the personal relationships between the people who work there

Let us first state that Office politics is not personal interaction in the aspect of how we talk or act toward others related to the struggle for power or position. This can be ascertained from the definition above. Many people think that office politics are a required part of every business. We should ask ourselves, are they really? Why do office politics exist? Can the fact that your company has office politics be an indicator of your organizational health? To answer if these are a part of every business, we must first examine why these exist. To do that let us look at Organizational Politics Perceptions (OPP). OPP is a way of looking at the aspects and/or perceptions of people that cause them to see their office or business as a political one. Surprisingly enough with all the studies over the last 20+ years done on this topic very few have found any relationship between OPP and demographics such as age, race, sex, or tenure. The major drivers to perceiving an environment as political can be divided into three groups:

  • 1. Personal Control and Certainty
  • 2. Relationships and Opportunity
  • 3- Conflict

If we were to look at these three areas closer, we would see that they are all functions of what is known as Stage three of tribal leadership. In the book “Tribal Leadership” it lists five stages:

  • 1. Stage one: “Life sucks”
  • 2. Stage two: “My life sucks”
  • 3- Stage three: “I’m great, and you’re not”
  • 4. Stage four: “We’re great”
  • 5. Stage five: “Life is great”1

Tlie first two stages do not represent very much of the workforce, about 25 percent.’ Stage three (the section where office politics occur) represents about 49 percent of the workforce.[1] This would explain why most people are familiar with office politics. Many of us are taught at an early age that knowledge is power. While it is true that knowledge can be perceived as power the reality is that until it is shared and put to use, knowledge holds no power, other than the perception of the person with the knowledge by the person who desires it. This would make the brokering of knowledge for power purposes flawed in its inception. So why does it continue as office politics? To answer that we must look to human nature and the desire to be needed and secure in the basic needs.[1] While hoarding knowledge or information does not provide either of these it may be the perception of the individual that it does. This perception, which was established from some experience, is what needs to be addressed and will likely require new experiences that would modify the response to alleviate this situation. This will need to be done if we wish to have an open sharing of knowledge at all levels of an organization.

Politics—Personal Control and Certainty

We will review personal control and certainty first because it actually plays a role in all the drivers we will subsequently discuss. An individual who feels that they have some control in the (their) work situation are less likely to view the office as political, because they do not perceive a struggle for power in their work. This also provides a feeling of certainty in their position and further reduces the perception of office politics. There is, however, an additional need to fully satisfy the certainty requirement and that is communication. Without good communication between parties about personal control, a perception of mistrust could foster the perception of a highly charged political environment. When we use the word “communication” it also refers to the communication we provide via the experiences we show others.

Politics—Relationships and Opportunity

Now let us discuss Relationships and Opportunity as they pertain to OPR In the introductory paragraph we stated, “personal interaction and how we talk or act toward others is not related to the struggle for power or position.” So you might be asking, “What is meant by the term relationships if it does not mean personal interaction?” In this context the term relationship means perceived positional relationships. If an individual perceives their relationship to the structure of an organization or group (team) as non-contributive or inferior, then they may be more likely to perceive their environment as political due to a lack of control and/ or contribution. As we discussed in the previous paragraph personal control is an important aspect in the perception of whether an environment is political or not. How are opportunity and relationships grouped together? Opportunity can be seen as the ability for growth and development both on a personal and professional level. If someone sees that they have the opportunity for growth and development within a team or organization, they perceive that they have some control, if even in a small way, of the situation and better yet their own personal growth. Again, we see how personal control comes into play with the perception of office politics.

Politics and Conflict

Conflict is the third aspect that contributes to the perception of a political environment. Conflict is defined by Webster as:

a: competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons) II a conflict of principles

b: mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands. II His conscience was in conflict with his duty.*

There will always be some level of conflict within any team or organization. While Webster’s definition of conflict would seem to indicate some form of impasse we know that there would be no change in anything without conflict. Changes are caused from the dynamic tension (conflict) between one’s current situation and a desired situation. If the tension is slight the desire to change is also slight; if the tension is large a change is more likely and perhaps more extreme or radical departure from the present situation. While change management likes the term tension versus conflict, they can produce similar results if employed in productively. It is the nature in which conflict is resolved that creates the perception of a political environment. If we approach conflicts using the five disciplines of a learning organization, we can minimize the potential for creating a political situation or environment. It is when the conflict turns away from a team solution; you’re wrong and I’m right, that power comes into play. As every leader can attest there are times when this answer is required. However, when time permits a discussion as to why it was done this way should follow to show all parties involved that their contributions are important, but the situation was such that this discussion could not be done. During this discussion input as to how to best handle the situation next time could be discussed to minimize or even prevent repeating it, and this is part of learning. The irony of this is that unless the situation is some form of causality, not something that arises from a typical business project, there is frequently time for a discussion and this discussion would lead to a more thorough answer to the situation.

Summary

During our reviewed the confluence of these three drivers, we have touched on some of the basic principles of a learning organization, change management, and motivation. Therefore, we can use this information to explore how having a perceived political environment could diminish the productivity of our people and thus our organization. Something we should note about our review, is that we consistently use the term “perceived.” The reason for this is that every individual will perceive a situation differently, at least initially. It requires constant effort (communication) and attention (involvement) to maintain and develop a clear and accurate team perspective.

  • [1] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, (n.d.). Retrieved August 6,2018, from https://simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
  • [2] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, (n.d.). Retrieved August 6,2018, from https://simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
 
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