Other Variants of Bad Politics

In addition to the many items I noted in the section "Bad Politics," there are a few other negative behaviors that can crop up. I collect them here so that they don't escape unnoticed.

One particularly noxious form of bad politics is failing to "sign up." In every process, there is a period of discussion, followed by a decision. At this point, "the polls are closed." Once the decision is made, everyone must commit to it.[9] Continued whining and politicking for rejected solutions after the fact is bad politics. Instead of allowing the organization to move on and implement the solution, it continues to mire down the issue in debate. Worse, failure to commit tends to undermine the leadership structure by calling decisions into question over and over again. This form of bad politics must be eradicated whenever it crops up. Managers need to send a strong signal that "If you can't sign up, get off the team." If you have a healthy political process, this is a reasonable condition.

[9] I devote all of Chapter 15, "Signing Up," to the subject of commitment.

Another symptom of bad political behavior is obvious empire building. There are still many people out there who are caught up in the trappings and symbols of success: rank in the organization, number of direct and indirect reports, size of budget, and so on. Organizations that overemphasize these statistical symbols reap what they sow; behaviors tend to follow the reward system. If, on the other hand, your organization rewards originality, contribution, "doing whatever it takes," and so onindependent of the individual's place in the hierarchythen you are on the right track. In such organizations, the former behaviors tend to stick out like a sore thumb and can be culturally discouraged. When individuals persist in them, they are mapping to different cultures that are more politicized, in which one's opinions have value according to one's place in the hierarchy as opposed to the opinion's intrinsic value. High-trust organizations will ultimately reject such behavior, and if the behavior doesn't change, then the individuals who practice it must themselves be rejectedthe sooner, the better.

Finally, there's a stylistic issue that is often characterized as political behavior, usually in a negative way. Some people turn every interaction into a negotiation; they are always "working the room." If nothing else, such individuals become tiresome, and tend to drain the energy of the group after awhile; people develop the habit of knowing that they have to "play defense" at all times with such individuals. I clearly run the risk of a libel suit if I try to give you an example here.[10] But you all know the behavior, because there are certain individuals in every organization who are annoying in just this way. You tend to just not want to have to deal with them. Try not to be one, and coach others to avoid the practice.

[10] But here is a sports analogy: In tennis, this behavior is akin to always coming to the net. It applies constant pressure to the opponent.

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269

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