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