Corporate Politics: 10 Sure-Fire Strategies to Reduce Turf Wars and Power Struggles

In large corporations, corporate politics (with its accompanying turf wars and power struggles) seems to be inevitable. These dynamics are not limited to large profit-making corporations either. Long before I had a career in business, I was a professional counsellor. The office politics in small organizations, even non-profits, can be nothing short of fierce.

Over the Christmas, there were reports of fighting between rival factions of monks at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The bizarre footage of bearded priests in flowing clerical robes coming to blows and fighting with sticks and brooms was flashed on TV screens around the globe. What happened to “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men”? It was such a disgrace and so disturbing that I definitely will not be posting the Youtube video. It is this scuffle that inspired this blog entry as it reminded me of what takes place every day in corporations and, since we’re talking about a fight in a church, this scripture:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

James 4:1, The Bible

We don’t often see people come to blows at work (or church for that mater) but the emotional heat of the conflict can be just as intense when corporate politics trigger the flight or fight response.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic bullet that will eliminate turf wars but I do have some ideas about what is behind some of the in-fighting and a few ideas for leadership practices that can reduce it. The following suggestions will help executives and senior team leaders avoid practices that foster a climate of fear, insecurity and mistrust that fuels in-fighting. When guidelines are not clear, team members will have a tendency to try to make each other look bad or engage in unethical practices to ensure that they are rewarded or selected for opportunities despite the fact that they lack the minimum qualifications and experience.

  1. Veto the appointment of volatile executives.
    People will do anything to get out of the line of fire.Executive outbursts and unpredictable behaviour breeds a climate of fear and insecurity that will only intensify politics and game-playing.
  2. Set clear criteria for decisions and STICK to them.
    Constantly flip-flopping and changing decisions ensures that only the most spineless team members who can blow hot and cold with every change in direction will flourish in that environment.
  3. Don’t set departments up to compete for scarce resources.
  4. Encourage collaboration. Reward senior executives and team leaders who formulate joint solutions and plans for the good of the organization as a whole.
  5. There is merit in a meritocracy.
    The modern corporation is not a meritocracy. If they were, the brightest and the best would be promoted into positions of leaderships. This clearly is not the case. Instead, irrelevant factors such as who plays golf, who belongs to the right country club and, heaven forbid, who is sleeping with who, have an impact.By developing a clear set of competencies and hiring and promoting team members based on these competencies, there is a higher likelihood that your best people will be promoted and the jockeying for position and “war games” reduced.
  6. Stop the unethical practices to work around the qualifications.
    I have twice in my career encountered situations in which positions were designated as “acting” in order to avoid posting the position and promoting the most qualified person. In both instances, the individuals had not completed high school and they had minimal or no relevant experience.Qualifications are there for a reason. If a position requires a certain level of education and experience, what is the point of bending the rules? If the most qualified person is female, of a different race or religion, does this really have a bearing on whether or not they can do the job.
  7. Nix the nepotism. It’s a major morale buster.
    To ensure continuity in family owned small businesses, keeping it in the family might make sense. Nepotism has no place in major corporations or, heaven forbid, public sector organizations.
  8. Stop rewarding team members who are experts at gossip, news carrying, backbiting, “sucking up”, and “currying favour” (as we Jamaicans call it.) What is rewarded, gets repeated.
  9. Stop rewarding “yes men”.
    Being round them drains the spirit of innovation from everyone around them.
    Scenario: I remember a manager who expressed her opinion about a corporate policy but then added “However, when the new VP comes on board, I will find out his views on the subject and they will also become mine.”Some of the biggest corporate failures of our time could have been avoided if leaders had the courage to stand up for their convictions and their cautions were heeded. Remember the old plastic bag commercial. Leaders need to be hefty, not whimpey.
  10. Develop clear guidelines for rewards and recognition and STICK to them.Reward the wrong behaviour and your organization is guaranteed to become a hot bed of politics.
  • What was your reaction to the monks battling it out with brooms in Bethlehem?
  • Do any of these scenarios “ring true”?
  • What strategies would you add to this list?
  • What do you think is behind the constant in-fighting on some executive and management teams?

Photo Credit: sidknee23


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