Organisational politics in a rivers trust

Woman mediating between arguing colleagues“Politics are rife in our organisation” or “There are no politics where we work” . The truth typically lies somewhere in-between.

In my last blog, I said I would write another about the role of office politics in our organisations.

With all the hassle we see at national level with Politics, you might well ask why you need to think about organisational politics. Well, I suggest that you need to because they are inevitable and necessary in any organisation and particularly those who rely heavily on influencing third parties to co-operate, collaborate or even ‘just’ hand over funding. Indeed, one definition of organisational politics is that they are:

informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organisation, increase power, or achieve other targeted objectives.

Who among you would not recognise that as part of our way of operating? Who among you might want to be able to work more effectively in the inevitable world of organisational politics? Well, thanks partly to The Academy for Political Intelligence, there are ways of recognising what is going on and working differently.

So let’s start with another definition:

Politics is not what you do but why I think you do it

At risk of inflaming something unwanted, to use a current metaphor, Boris Johnson might be doing what he is doing for purely personal reasons (because he wants to be PM) or he might genuinely think that his approach to Brexit is best for the country or both! So here we have the two axes against which we can evaluate behaviour:

  1. The extent to which the individual is politically skilled – can ‘read’ a situation and apply relevant skills
  2. whether the primary driver is purely to meet personal goals, or whether it is also aligned with organisational needs

I’m a consultant, so we have a four box model based on these axes:

Four political animals

Are you a sly fox, a wise owl, the stubborn mule or a follower sheep? All have their place and your challenge is to be aware of them all, watch out for them (especially in your own behaviour) and play the appropriate role at the right time.

In order to flourish, you need political intelligence.

What is political intelligence (pi)?

pi is a distinct set of skills and behaviours that are needed by people working in organisations all over the world in order to manage effectively the political landscape.

In other words this means:

  • Recognising and understanding how your organisation REALLY works
  • Appreciating how decisions are REALLY made and how you can influence this process
  • Understanding the concept of power in an organisation and developing alternative and additional sources of power to become more influential
  • Following how information flows around your organisation and making sure you are ‘tapped’ into the key points on it’s journey
  • Making sure you have a network that provides you with a supporting framework to make things happen
  • Having absolutely first class communication skills ensuring crystal clear clarity at all levels
  • Appreciating that you will be perceived as a political animal in your organisation and learning how to manage that for your own and the organisations’ benefit.

How to be Politically Intelligent

The trite answer would be to go on a suitable course, but I’m not advertising here, simply offering you some high level tips. How you handle each of these (stereotypical, so beware that we can all do all of them to a greater or lesser extent) differs:

Sheep – want to follow the herd and do what the organisation wants them to do, so make it clear that this is company policy, that everyone else of doing it this way, this is the way to go, that this is a low risk option

Mules – are stubborn and want to do what they want to do the way they want to do it. They do what they do for their own reasons, so find out what those reasons are and make your request in terms that fit those personal reasons.

Foxes – sly, cunning, cleverly getting what they want for themselves. Establish what their real drivers are, use their cunning and resourcefulness to find new ways to deliver things, point out opportunities that they might be interested in.

Owls – are wise, patient, principles and ruthless when necessary. They often work in mysterious ways, behind the scenes. Ask them for help with big challenges; appeal to their hard-held principles.


So there you are, a 10 minute introduction to Organisational Politics. It DOES happen in your organisation after all, doesn’t it?