Manage office politics using issues management techniques

It's not uncommon for a project team to be impacted by office politics since you have different people trying to exert influence to get things done. Here's how to get to the source and deal with the repercussions.

Everyone hates office politics, right? Probably most of the readers of this column would say that they do. However, politics is all about interacting with people and influencing them to get things done. This can be a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing, depending on the tactics people use. It's the behavior and motivation of people that makes office politics good or bad. For example, finish the following statement:

You are able to move your ideas forward in the organization and get people to act on them...

  • By knowing who to talk to, clearly communicating how your ideas will benefit them and by keeping your word to others.
  • By currying favor, suppressing other opposing ideas and taking credit for the ideas of your staff

I think we can agree that the first example would be fine, while the second would be an example of the dirty politics that people don't like.

It's not uncommon for a project team to be impacted by office politics. This can often occur when there is a difference of opinion on the project deliverables, requirements, scope change requests, risk perceptions, etc. Remember that politics can come in play when different people are trying to exert their influence to get done what they want. These disagreements may be the result of the seedier types of politics or the disagreements may simply reflect a legitimate and valid difference of opinion between people who think that they are all representing the best interest of the company.

Regardless of how the disagreement started, once the politics starts to impact the project adversely, you need to identify it as an issue. The situation meets the definition of an issue since the problem is impacting the progress of the project and the resolution is outside the total control of the project team. In fact, political problems are probably issues by definition, since they typically need to be resolved by people outside the project team.

You can't utilize a checklist to resolve political issues. Political problems are people related and situational. What works for one person in one situation may not work for another person in the same situation because people, and their reactions, are different. However, identifying the problem as an issue will bring visibility to the situation. Also one of the first steps in the issues resolution process is to identify the people that need to be involved to resolve the problem. This step is doubly important for political problems.

Generally, project managers need to become good at identifying and resolving political situations. This includes recognizing the times and events where politics are most likely to be involved. This could include decision points, competition for budget and resources, and setting project direction and priorities.

If you are worried about politics, just follow your processes. Your issues management process is there to help you get issues resolved. If you have a good process, trust it and execute it. You should be able to resolve political problems without getting in the dark side of office politics yourself.