The Cost of Office Politics
Let’s face it – we all engage in office politics from time to time. In a positive sense, office politics can help you increase the visibility of your contributions. Your success depends in part on your ability to build relationships, foster team spirit and forge alliances. There is nothing wrong with determining who in the organization can help you present and promote your ideas. If you have great ideas, the organization benefits from sharing. Also, there can be an organizational benefit to jockeying for position. Making people compete for rewards and promotions tends to keep them on their toes. Ideally, a corporate culture encourages people to be the best they can be.
The negative kind of office politics is the backstabbing version where, to save their own hide, people throw co-workers, team members and reports under the bus. Examples are blaming others for your mistakes, badmouthing coworkers and presenting other people’s ideas as your own. This is the fast lane to eroding trust, which is a vital element in any organization. Your good people will stop sharing ideas for fear of piracy and focus on survival, trying to anticipate the next booby trap. It’s like treading water among sharks. Some of the worst backstabbers I’ve met are, ironically, also the ones that send peace-on-earth messages at the end of the year.
While organizations can benefit from positive politics, the negative variety has a price tag. There is a direct cost in terms of lost productivity as people devote time and energy to playing games and divert from performance and company goals. Another direct cost is how such games affect those in the organization that prefer to do their work and don’t want to deal with silly games, gossip and piracy. They start focusing on hanging on to their jobs rather than doing them. Engagement goes down as they are less willing to stick their necks out. If the boss condones negative behaviour, it can paralyze an entire organization.
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