Why you want politics and infighting

Most people prefer to work in an organization without infighting or politics. In this blog John M McKee offers a different perspective and suggests that internal conflict may be what's needed to survive.

"I need you to help us stop the politics and "gotcha's"!"

The company's head of HR was nearly coming through the phone as she said those words.  She wanted me to lead a team-building "offsite" with their senior managers. The objective being to get them to learn how to play together nicely.

Leadership dynamics and interactions are a fairly common concern.  Issues exist in most companies.  And many of them bemoan the fact that they have so much infighting, so they’ll bring in a management consultant, or a leadership coach, to “fix the problem."

I surprised my caller when I noted that, potentially, this kind of infighting is one of the best things that can occur in a company.

I realize this idea can seem counter-intuitive. After all, management textbooks usually stress the importance of "team alignment."  Inherently, it can simply seem wrong to not have alignment. Many leaders come up through the ranks accepting the principal that an organization that shares and cares is optimal.

My opinion? It depends. It depends on two key factors:

  1. The kind of a company the leaders want
  2. The external threats the company faces.

Some companies have a very clearly stated HR strategy that reflects the goals and objectives of the leadership. Others have virtually no written HR strategy, but that doesn’t trouble the company bosses because they are focused more on things like market share, revenue, profit.

Here's why both can be right at the same time:

  • If a company has determined it wants to be an organization that attracts good people with an environment that encourages the employees and managers to stay for a long time; then an outbreak of infighting – be it between individuals or departments – can be disruptive. It needs to be brought in line. For those organizations, corporate politicking causes people to reach for those purple pills in the top desk drawer. Anxiety in that kind of environment often translates to dysfunction, with a loss of progress.
  • But if your company operates in a tough and competitive marketplace, having a culture that allows or even encourages warring camps to exist may provide a great competitive edge. Doing business in a tough marketplace can be ugly. Having a culture that allows the development of warring camps internally may turn out to be one of the best ways to deal with external threats because when different options are surfaced, they get challenged openly.  These challenges can lead to insight about how competitors may respond.  In that way, the company can plan with better insight.

I'm not advocating the creation of organizations where backstabbing or lies are commonplace. And I certainly understand why many people would rather work in a company that is more civilized, with little internal conflict or rough external competitors.

But, in an era where even lawyers, medical doctors, and CPAs are losing their jobs, I think it’s incumbent upon company managers and leaders to give serious thought to what their HR strategy should be for their particular situation.

Here's to the future!


Executive Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...


You say that warring camps can help in evaluating options because, I presume, the option will have to run a tough gauntlet, and what? Only the best make it? No. That's not how politics work. That's how open dialogue and using independent thinkers instead of yes-men works. In politics the best solution is always passed over in favor of the solution which will make most of its backers look the best (unless it's someone's trojan horse, in which case it's designed to crash and burn and take its supporters with it). You're saying the choice is between either a poisoned stressful atmosphere, or some kind of mellowed out "yeah, what he said" atmosphere? Whatever happened to competence?


But in my opinion the company will benefit less from too much of infighting than from too little as it costs more to ensure safe, productive and co-operative behavior between various company members than potential productivity loss due to lack of internal conflict


I'm fairly new to my current IT organization. I come from one of the biggest companies in the world, where getting challenged by other people/groups its common place. Personally I love competition as long as its honorable. I care not for politics. Here things could no be more different. as an IT organization we have become self-complacent and just plain incompetent. Nobody wants to challenge the status quo. If you do, it means you are not a "team player". So the solution its to keep your mouth shut, don't rock the boat. as a consequence there is very little progress. "Creative conflict" as mentioned by CareerCoach its a real necessity, otherwise you become stagnant.


Only a w***er likes politics.


As the article states conflict in an organization that is controlled is healthy. However, my experience with political infighting has typically been negative. It normally quickly spirals out of control as various people attempt to get the upper hand, back-stabbing ensues, and the workers become pawns in a dangerous game of chess. This creates very high stress levels that causes burn-out. The conflict must be contained in a manner that concerns a specific topic and not just in an attempt to look better than another person. While that appears to be a great way to create competition, many people will not just look at doing a better job themselves, but find a way to actually derail the other person's work. That is not healthy for a company at all. If the political infighting has gotten to the point that people are complaining about it, it's probably past the control point. Providing training on how to properly handle conflicts between people might be a great idea to bring things back to a manageable level.


Does this exist at your place of work?

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