Navigating Organizational Politics

Posted on: September 8, 2015, by :

Learning about your organization’s culture is key to understanding what’s required politically to achieve your goals. Current practices, particularly on behalf of those in leadership positions, are good indicators of what’s expected and rewarded.

I’ve known professionals throughout my career who detested the thought of having to participate in organizational politics. They believed that their efforts and contributions should be the factors that kept them in their positions. In many cases that does occur but in others being able to tactfully navigate organizational politics is critical. This can mean whether or not you are promoted and also whether or not you are asked to stay in your current position. Many states are “at will” and organizations can dismiss employees without cause.

Navigating political waters impacts current and future opportunities.

Strive to contribute to and foster a positive environment. This impacts your employees and customers as well as your career. As a manager you should be self-motivated and encourage teamwork among employees. Become familiar with your organization’s culture and strive to maintain it within your area of responsibility.

Identify the “players” and understand what motivates them. Typically, but not always, those in senior level positions have had to navigate organizational politics. They’ve usually had to exercise a degree of tact and exhibit the ability to perform at high levels.

Consider employees with greater levels of seniority. If possible determine who is in their network and to what extent their contacts are primarily internal or if they are a combination of internal and external individuals. The purpose is to better understand their network and discover any themes or shared interests.

Understand why certain individuals are selected to participate on task forces or other special initiatives with others of similar rank and reputation. Many times these individuals are well respected or are of particular importance to the organization and have often saved or made the organization money in the past. Try to get to know them to better understand their motives. You may discover shared interests that could position you to learn more about them.

Get to know your coworkers who are in leadership positions. They may serve as valuable mentors or alliances. Recommendations of others can be critical to the opportunities you receive so it’s important to understand at all times who would be willing to recommend you or offer you their support.

Develop alliances. Both internal and external alliances can prove valuable throughout your career. Alliances can help guide you and offer perspectives based upon organizational or industry history. You may discover that multiple alliances work best for you.

For example, you may form alliances with others who have similar goals or career trajectories. You may find that this type of alliance can serve as a sounding board for you as you experience similar challenges. Alliances with common interests or value systems may prove rewarding as you continue in your career. You may experience learning and development together within complimentary areas of expertise.

Departmental alliances are especially valuable—you should remain connected with others in your department, offer assistance when possible and continually search for ways to add value. Alliances can permit you access to networks that you may not otherwise have and direct access to others outside your network.


Photo by Thomas Hawk, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

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