Workplace Politics: Navigating the Thin Line Between Strategy and Sacrifice
Updated: Jan 31
Strip away the corporate jargon, the hierarchy, the fancy titles, and what do we have at the heart of most jobs? Our days are often a whirlwind of meetings, emails, and an alphabet soup of Slack, Jira, Asana, Teams, Yammer... The real currency in this corporate game is how well you can collaborate.
Hierarchies, organisational charts, and role titles should be our map for collaboration, a who's who guide, so we don't step on each other's toes and understand who is ultimately responsible. But how often does this map show us how to navigate an organisation's actual corridors of power?
Imagine sketching a real-time map of your organisation—not the one on the company website, but the one showing the flow of info and decisions, the secret handshakes, the whispers in the break room. That's your guide to the hidden world of internal politics.
Why do we need politics? Surely, the world would be a better place without it. The reality is that there's never enough to go around. Whether budget, time, or opportunities, someone will lose out. Politics is the process of making that decision. It's not just in boardrooms or parliaments; it's in every group dynamic, from your family dinner table to the strangers you commute with. It's all politics.
What about fairness? Wouldn't it be great to make decisions in the clear light of day for all to see and understand? Unfortunately, fairness is like a chameleon; it changes colour depending on who's looking. Finding a single version of fairness that everyone agrees on would take politics.
What about some kind of middle-ground? Research shows that a whopping 69% of relationship problems are unsolvable. If that's true with your loved ones, imagine the odds in a workplace full of diverse characters and competing interests.
So here's the uncomfortable truth: like it or not, politics is how groups make decisions. You can't escape it.
Ultimately, it's about knowing the kind of politics at play where you work and deciding if that's the game you want to play. It's about understanding that while we can't always change the game, we always have a choice in how we play it—or if we choose to play at all.
The bad news is that if you want to be involved in decisions and reduce the number of times you lose out, you must play politics.
The good news is that politics isn't bad.
Bad politics is bad actors, those that take more than they give—a world of me-first, everyone-else-later manoeuvres. This breed of politics is rife with gossip, backstabbing, and shady deals that leave a trail of casualties. A workplace marred by such politics isn't just challenging; it's downright toxic.
Now, let's talk about the flip side—the kind of politics that can be a force for good. Imagine politics as a two-way street, where give and take are in perfect harmony. It's about crafting win-win scenarios, where decisions and strategies elevate everyone, focusing on long-term gains rather than fleeting personal victories. And yes, in this paradigm, you, too, benefit.
Here's the crux of it: politics itself isn't inherently good or bad. It's a neutral force. The choices we make within the political arena define its nature. Every day presents a new opportunity to choose how you play. So, as you navigate these waters, ask yourself: are you playing a game that uplifts or undermines? The power to decide—and to redefine the game—is entirely in your hands.