In any organizational environment, people play political games. Learn how to avoid this. Mauricio Goldstein and Phil Read
In any organizational environment, people play political games. It is in our nature to play these games when we are in groups, when there is stress and anxiety, and when there are “awards” to be earned (promotions, favor from the boss, financing for a project, a new contract, and so forth).
But playing political games can cause considerable harm to organizations. They prevent learning, worsen the climate, reduce people’s willingness to assume risks and form a barrier to change, affecting the main management processes. Their main negative effect is that they are a form of waste. We measure waste at factories in a detailed manner, and we take specific measures to reduce it. However, there are no good statistics on “waste management,” as the result of political games. The easiest type of waste to consider with regards to these games is simply how much time is wasted.
To identify how we deal with this waste and what we can do to release energy in organizations, we sought to understand the real impact and the main causes for political games.
A survey of more than 700 people showed how much energy (and in this case, we used time as a measurement) was being spent on political games, which could have been released for other activities (graph 1). To our surprise, those interviewed said that on average, 33% of people’s time is used for political games. For 20% of those interviewed, at their companies, more than 50% of the time is spent on politics.
These results offer us an important opportunity for productivity gains and increasing creativity, at a time when the excess of work (or lack of time) seems to be one of the main problems.
In the following stage, we became interested in the factors that most encourage these political games at companies (graph 2) and discovered that the climate of mistrust is the factor that most favors manipulation at a company (with 35% of the responses).
Therefore, the most important movement to release energy and time at your organization is to develop an open culture, based on cooperation and dialogue – the natural antidote to the excess of political games. This new culture will result in an increase of trust, pro-activeness, flexibility and creativity. But how should a leader build this culture?
• Encourage all collaborators to focus their attention and work on the customers and the market (an external focus), instead of making internal stakeholders their priority – an internal focus creates fertile soil for political games to grow. Make your meetings, corporate publications and your own messages reflect this direction.
• Effectively listen to the different “voices” inside the organization, especially those that are not saying exactly what you want to hear. Reward people who challenge the internal consensus and encourage objective and well-thought out conflict. Especially listen to and evaluate deeply courageous discussions about failures and on what we can learn from them. This behavior avoids a single way of thinking and the lack of information that can create a “monoculture,” taboos and decision making.
• Encourage and talk with the entire organization – through networks, crossing functions and processes, and not just “up and down” in the organization. Ensure that teams are created with a composition and mandates from several parts of the organization. This is the best way to create common meaning, coordinate actions and avoid functional silos and “finger pointing,” which inevitably comes with this.
• Performance is very important, but make sure that there is a balance between the short and long term, and that the climate you transmit is one of a sense of urgency because of the importance of your products and your quality for the market (and not a feeling of anxiety and worry that makes people defensive).
• Construct a more humane work environment – more conversation, fewer emails, more “personal” styles of communication, more appreciative and caring; and transmit more trust in the intrinsic potential of each person, challenging them to produce excellent work, focusing on their emotional and spiritual development and on their autonomy.
• Identify relevant questions for the evolution of the entire organization, and favor the formation of multi-functional and multi-level teams to seek solutions and execute them together.
• Rethink your organization as part of a larger ecosystem, one that is interconnected with collaborators, clients, suppliers, communities, environment, etc., creating value for all stakeholders.
• Finally, model the behavior that you want to see and also promote people who are practicing this type of behavior – this is always the most powerful symbol in an organization. Align processes, rewards and rituals around this.
Political games serve us, but they destroy value and a sense of meaning in our organizations. Courageous leadership serves others, including our clients and our collaborators, and transforms organizations in favor of a better society.
* This research was conducted with more than 700 people in events of Conarh, HSM, 6 Sigma Congress and Cycle Symposium – Demand & Supply Chain.