My associate Tom Meloche has been writing about politics lately, so I’ve decided to weigh in myself. As you know, if you read my articles, I am always clear about my AI-generated content. Today, I’m writing about office politics, so I decided to start with the standard Google AI definition:
“Office politics is the process of gaining and maintaining power and influence within an organization. It can be positive or negative, depending on how it is used. Positive office politics can help to build relationships, improve communication, and create a more productive work environment. Negative office politics can lead to conflict, gossip, and sabotage.”
The distinction between positive and negative politics is interesting here. Whereas the negative description fits with my model of political behavior, the positive description sounds like something else to me. However, if politics is “the process of gaining and maintaining power and influence,” these positive manifestations make sense.
Agile journeys begin with understanding the gap between the current and desired states. If politics exist in an organization -- and this state is virtually ubiquitous -- evaluating its effectiveness is a critical part of the process. If, indeed, positive politics is a thing, we should move to reinforce it.
However, if you see things like I do, negative politics are the real target here. Negative politics proliferate when they work to allow people to gain power and influence. Their effectiveness almost always comes from the top. If top leaders embrace negative politics, others will follow.
It is unreasonable to assume that intelligent, talented, passionate people won’t find the most effective pathway for advancing their careers. Negative politics exist because they work. Organizations dominated by negative politics will naturally attract and retain people with a knack for utilizing them.
Negative politics undermine the very core of agile practice. They weaken trust, damage communications, and detract from effective work efforts. For an Agile Journey to progress, leadership must acknowledge the current state and actively address the power of negative politics in the organization.
I am reminded of a time in my own company. I was very wary of negative politics getting a foothold in the company. Once, an employee came to me and started complaining about another employee. A few sentences in, I stopped her and asked if she could wait just a minute before proceeding. I left my office and got the person she was talking about. I asked her to start over in his presence and not to leave anything out, or I would add it myself.
From there, I essentially became an observer. The two of them hashed out their differences in my office while I went about the work I had been doing before being interrupted. I assure you she never returned to me with a complaint about another employee. Did she complain to others? Maybe. I can’t know for sure, but as a leader, I can only send clear messages that negative politics won’t work here.
You may lose some people if you commit to stamping out negative politics. That’s okay! Part of a changing culture is not everyone will like what you’re becoming. The people you hire to replace departed employees will likely appreciate the culture you’re moving toward, which will help reinforce the transformation.
You can’t force mindset changes like this. They take time and patience. We have to prepare ourselves to meet situations as they arise. We will miss some opportunities and catch others. In time, negative politics fails to produce the desired results. Employees naturally resort to trust-building and collaboration to get things done.