11 ways company politics can thwart your projects

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Politics is an unfortunate reality in many large studios and design departments that are part of large organisations – but there are steps you can take to reduce the pervasiveness and impact to projects.

Workplace politics are ultimately types of behaviours or actions injected into business situations that can complicate, impede, or derail progress altogether. Politics and its impact are often underestimated until it's too late. However you can mitigate the risk and the first step is to identify the type and level of political behaviours that might curtail the efforts of a project, department or even an entire organisation.

Political games can stem from one individual to multiple areas within an organisation, and can have a devastating impact. Some forms of politics are blatant and obvious, while others can be more passive and even go completely undetected. The nature and severity of politics can range depending on the level within the organisation and motivations, but make no mistake even the most seemingly minor politics can have a far-reaching effect on morale, trust, and the project outcome. Further, the outcome rarely plays out only at the project level, it more often than not has a negative consequence to a business as a whole. Sometimes the effects of political behaviours may not be felt until they snowball and become a larger problem that can jeopardise long-term strategic goals.

If unaddressed, workplace politics becomes interwoven in the overall culture and typically intertwines itself throughout the your team – could potentially degrade client relationships as well.

Here are just some of the political behaviour employees, stakeholders, team members, sponsors, or even leaders engage in, and some things you as a PM can do to minimise their impact.

1. Constantly blaming others for problems

At the beginning of any project or initiative, the tone needs to be set and clearly communicated by project leaders to reduce senseless finger pointing. While accountability for mistakes is an important factor, pointing fingers and laying blame rarely results in improvements; it often instead leads to embarrassment, mistrust, and future cover-ups.

2. Seeking to develop relationships only with senior level employees/management who can help career advancement

You need to lead by example by demonstrating they value the contributions of employees at all levels. It's simply not enough to lend lip service, those in leadership positions are also relationship management professionals who can work alongside others to set the culture by fostering positive supportive relationships regardless of hierarchy.

3. Seeking to create barriers between upper management and other employees

In order for employees at all levels to be fully invested in the success of all projects, leaders should encourage the flow of great ideas from bottom to top, regardless of where they originate. It may also be beneficial to project success if a you can facilitate meetings between applicable business leaders and other employees. As I've said before, "a great idea is a great idea, regardless of where it comes from." Barriers are not in the best interest of stakeholders and instead set studios and departments up for larger deficiencies later.

4. Creating conflict at every turn without being part of the solution

At the start of each project, you should communicate expectations and convey that prior to bringing up any problems, an individual must also come prepared with potential solutions. This creates teams of critical thinkers always thinking forward and focusing on project success rather than failure.

5. Supporting or advancing only those employees who align with self-serving views or goals

It's human nature to gravitate towards those whose views and opinions align with our own, but as a manager this should not be the case. You should not inject personal bias, nor impact progress. Often real progress and innovation come about through the differing experience or views.

You should encourage and explore diversity in approaches in order to find the best solutions for stakeholder interest. In large companies, this may involve entering into difficult discussions with senior management about the benefits of views from different vantage points.

6. Inappropriately leveraging personal influence

This is a significant problem in the workplace, and often undermines the valuable efforts of others, while serving the needs of only a few. Being an effective manager isn't just about using your technical, job-related skills and knowledge, it's employing other softer skills such as the ability to recognise hidden problems.

Project leaders should keep close tabs on the progress of initiatives, as things can take a sudden turn in the wrong direction. When this happens for no apparent reason, misguided, and often self-serving influence may be at the root. A manager has a responsibility to continually remind all parties to limit influence towards furthering stakeholder needs only, and not their own agendas.

Leadership at all levels should work diligently to pay attention to these and other more subtle destructive behaviours that can compromise relationships and project tasks. Once these behaviours have been uncovered you should work with others to address them directly, immediately, and fully before moving on. Unresolved issues like subtle sabotage and cover-ups can be highly damaging at every level of business and destroy project gains.

7. Seeking ways to leverage the knowledge of others without reciprocating

Sharing of knowledge in of itself is an educational process. You should strive to convey to all project participants the benefits of knowledge sharing as well as the risks to project objectives of not doing so. Project leaders can also help to alleviate individual fear and insecurities as they arise since this is usually at the root of withholding knowledge. By helping in this regard, it creates a more cohesive environment for team members and makes it easier to share knowledge and collaborate more openly.

8. Spreading gossip or lies about others

This particular issue is very difficult to get around, as chatter is a natural part of human nature to some extent (when not destructive). It is important to lead by example and set expectations about appropriate behaviour right out of the gate. You should convey they expect mutual respect and support among team members and others, and that gossip and lies will not be accepted. Sometimes it may be a simple matter of explaining how damaging gossip is to peers and how it influences everyone's morale and productivity.

9. Taking credit for the work, effort or ideas of subordinates and others

Credit grabbing is another area that can prove highly problematic. No employee appreciates another employee or leader undeservedly taking credit for his or her work. Make it your business to keep abreast of the work being done, recognising, disclosing, and where possible rewarding the appropriate individuals, not just their superiors. Very often, managers receives the credit or takes the credit for the work of their team. This can lead to a lack of trust by employees and ultimately sabotage future efforts. Recognition should go directly to the individual who has made the contribution; most employees don't mind sharing some of the credit when they are fairly recognised and compensated for their own hard work. Furthermore, if employees believe their contributions are not valued or recognised, they often withdraw or reduce participation, and eventually withhold information.

Project leaders need to work on improving morale throughout every stage by remaining transparent, fair and open, along with regular communication. A manager who keeps two-way communication flowing and is respectful to everyone is more likely to catch gaps in participation faster.

While there are many other motivations for political behaviour in the workplace and projects, many of these can be addressed quickly and effectively. The key is being expedient and sincere in seeking the best solution to help project teams, functional leaders, and sponsors achieve stakeholder goals, without compromising their value in the process.

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