Office Politics…..They are Still Here.

Despite the pandemic, office politics are still omnipresent; and in some cases even more prevalent than pre-Covid. Many of my clients are struggling with their voices truly being heard. Often they are talked over, interrupted, and sentences truncated. The situation can become even more difficult when a person is trying to engage in a virtual team meeting.

To make matters more complicated, most of my clients work in organizations which are highly matrixed. This often translates into the harsh reality of organizational politics. Let’s face it – organizations are made up of human beings which often equates to political drivers and associated consequences. Having worked in three global companies with highly matrixed structures, I get this reality first hand. In these matrixed structures, we have to learn to lead through influence and understand the incentives which drive behaviors – which is not a simple feat.

Over the past several weekends, I have been revisiting articles from one of my favorite columns from the New York Times: The Corner Office. The column is never short on amazing interviews and insightful perspective. This particular interview by Adam Bryant was with Dinesh C. Paliwal, who at the time was the chairman, president and chief executive of Harman International Industries, the audio and infotainment equipment company, and now the wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics. Since this interview, Mr. Paliwal has gone on to serve on the boards of Nestle, Brystol Myers Squibb, and Raytheon. His background is intriguing. His father was a freedom advocate in his home country of India; marched with Ghandi and spent years in jail for his effort in this movement. He watched his father stand tall on many occasions and regularly watched him ‘shine the light’ on those who were not forthright, honest, or misrepresented the truth in any way. Based on this particular article, and what I have studied of him over the past number of years, he is a leader for whom I would gladly work. I was particularly interested in his answer relative to how he handles office politics. I quote:

“As the leader, I can either encourage politics or stop it. If you show you have no tolerance for it, and encourage people to work together, they start to figure out that Dinesh doesn’t have time for politics. We’re a big matrix company, and there is a lot of room for politics because matrix means you might have two bosses. If there’s a problem, a conflict, I’ll go to the source. I don’t talk over the phone. Maybe over dinner I’ll do some coaching, talk straight, give them some advice on how to work well with the other individual, and encourage them to talk to each other. I’ll tell them, “Give him a call, talk to him more, and don’t try to solve difficult issues over e-mail, because e-mails can cause serious misunderstandings or even disasters sometimes. When people talk, they generally sort out things. So you bring them together.” 

His advice is still relevant; despite not always being in a ‘brick and mortar’ building or often not having the ability to ‘take them to dinner’ due to Covid. Yet, the key is to reach out to them. You extend your hand first. Communicate – voice to voice and face to face if you can – even if this is over Zoom.

If you have been in Corporate America or frankly any organization involving human beings – odds are you have had an experience with office politics. It becomes even more prevalent when the organization is ‘matrixed’ which is the majority of large, expanding environments….and complicated even further with the ‘virtual variable’ we are all dealing with through the pandemic.

If you are not the leader who is the typical tie breaker when political situations such as this arise, what can you do? Here are a few basic thoughts – and I would love to hear your ideas, as well:

  1. Transparency in your motives, end-game desires, and possible obstacles  – on the front end – is key. Being 100% open and honest denotes strength and power – not weakness. Believe it or not, people appreciate knowing your hopes, fears, and vulnerabilities. At the end of the day, we are all in this together. Sure – that can be scary; yet, I believe that approach versus scheming, withholding information, and playing all ends against each other absolutely will win out every single time. And given we are typically not in an ‘office’ most of the time, reaching out to openly communicate via phone, text, and zoom takes the mystery out of play. That is more important than we realize, as I tell my clients: In the absence of a story – another will be written. So – share YOUR story, your intentions, etc. early and often.
  2. Meet people where they are, not where you are. What do they need? Where are they in their quest to get there? How can you help them? And yes….even addressing the WIIFM (what is in it for them)….as everyone is needing/wanting something.  I am a big believer when we approach any relationship – business or personal – with purity of intention and in the spirit of helping them achieve their goals – we will ultimately achieve ours.
  3. Who or what does this behavior serve? This question is the ultimate Litmus test. If the answer to that question is just you…that begs for further thought. Ultimately, we need to be in service to something or someone other than ourselves. And, if you do not have the passion or the uncompromising desire to serve that cause, then, again, this calls for further thought and possibly prayer within yourself.

What do you think? How have you met and dealt with politics in your organization? How has this changed in this new virtual/hybrid world we are living and working in today?