ROBERT J. SCHEMEL, JR.
Seminar Leader Dr. Robert J. Schemel, Jr. , uses a classic 2 — 2 grid to focus this exercise on organizational politics along two axes, "pursuit of self-interest" and "pursuit of organizational interest". His learning grid encourages trainees to carefully analyze organizational behavior by more accurately defining the styles of an individual's political behavior. He cautions members of workplace organizations to guard against quick reactions and misreading another person's intent. Bob leads the group members into self-analysis of their own problem behaviors, as well as provides structured guidelines for group discussion during team work. His exercise specifically addresses cross-functional problem solving.
Bob Schemel designed the Good and Bad Politics exercise for AMA's course 2505 Cross-Functional Communication and retains the copyright to this exercise. It is reprinted here with permission of Robert Schemel Consulting, LLC, copyright 2002.
Discerning the differences between good and bad organizational politics
Identifying the impact of politics on communication
Recognizing different styles of organizational politics
Defining ethical and less-than -ethical political behavior
Describing the four styles of organizational politics
As trainees engage in this exercise, they will be able to understand how organizational politics can support sound business practices. Trainees will be able to understand that politics can be used ethically, and they themselves will be able to ethically influence persons who exhibit various kinds of authority. Cross-functional problems can be defined and solved more easily.
Use organizational politics to build support for decisions
Distinguish between ethical and unethical organizational politics
Explain the characteristics of good and bad organizational politics
Describe the four styles of organizational politics
Flipchart or slide projector
Handout A, Handout B, and Handout C for each trainee
Chairs and tables to accommodate teams of 4 to 5 persons
Approximately an 1.5 to 2 hours
Organize the trainees into teams of 4 or 5 persons. Move chairs so that team members can sit together around a table.
Give each trainee a copy of Handout A, Handout B, and Handout C.
Begin the exercise by delivering the minilecture on "Good and Bad Politics" to establish the context for individual and team work that follows :
Good and Bad Politics: Minilecture
Organizational politics ”Is it a tricky game, or a necessity? Is there such a thing as good organizational politics?
Good politics ”We think of openness and honesty, maybe frequency of contact and matched interests, or perhaps casting nets wide enough to include as many people as possible.
Bad politics ”Here we tend to think of deceit and manipulation, backstabbing, and withholding information.
But when we speak of organizational politics, we are merely talking about behaviors that attempt to influence the allocation of organizational resources.
Organizational politics dates back to the time when the humans first gathered into organized groups to pursue common interests and, simultaneously , selfinterests. Organizational politics may not be the world's oldest pursuit, but it is certainly one of them.
As long as people continue to form groups with the dual purpose of pursuing common interests as well as self-interests, organizational politics will exist.
It is unrealistic to believe that organizational politics will someday go away, so, in the meantime, we should just ignore and avoid them.
Politics is a means to achieving an end. Like most tools, it is neither good nor bad, though it can be put to good or bad uses.
After reading or paraphrasing the minilecture on "Good and Bad Politics", pause to see if anyone has any comments and if so, deal with them before going on.
Lead the teams into an exercise on Best/Worst Cases and Impact by giving them the following instructions. This exercise has two parts : preparation and presentation. Suggest that for the preparation part, teams might want to work on paper divided into three columns : best ”worst ”impact. Team members should then prepare a presentation of their work to the whole group. Have a flipchart and markers available for them, and suggest that some teams might want to present a dramatic scene, musical skit, drawings, role plays, and so on. Allow approximately 40 minutes for this exercise.
Exercise: Best/Worst Cases ”And Impact
Part A: Preparation
Working with your team, come up with a list of the best and the worst cases of cross-functional politics. For each example, include its impact on cross-functional communication in the workplace.
Part B: Presentation
Then prepare a presentation of your work to the whole group. You may use a flipchart or any other materials or methods available to you, such as drawings, dramatic scenes, musical skits, and so on.
After the presentations, distribute Handout A, Four Styles of Organizational Politics. For added emphasis, draw it on a flipchart or make a slide of it to project where all can see. Read aloud the definitions of the four styles as the teams read silently along with you.
Political behavior can be undertaken in pursuit of self-interest as well as organizational interest. Basically, there are four styles of political behavior:
Alienated: Minimal behavior in pursuit of self-interest or organizational interest.
Egocentric: Behavior pursuing self-interest, with minimal regard for the good of the organization.
Organizational zealot: Behavior pursuing organizational interest, with minimal regard for self-interest.
Two-fold interest: Behavior pursuing both self-interest and organizational interest in a way that seeks to integrate the two concerns.
A graphic representation of the four styles of political behavior would look like this:
Then distribute Handout B, The Ethics of Political Behaviors, to all trainees. Tell them that the four styles of organizational politics don't fully tell us about the ethics of the politics. Organizational interests and self-interests may be pursued in fully ethical ways or in ways that leave something to be desired. We all play politics to some degree, and much of it is necessary. Give them a few minutes to read Handout B. Tell them that the final exercise will be a two-part exercise on Talking Politics, divided into Part A, Individual work, and Part B, Team work. Suggest that they might like to refer to Handout A and Handout B as they engage in the final exercise on Talking Politics.
People hire those they are sure won't ever be more skilled than they themselves are, so new hires won't threaten their positions
People hire those who can bring needed skills and experiences to the organization
People enhance their status at an unfair cost to others
People try to improve and manage their images honestly
People take stands they don't believe in simply to gain favor
People honestly discuss their good work and give others due credit
People fail to reveal the full story, in order to make themselves look good
People pass on information so others can use it productively
People listen to the concerns of others
People treat others like objects
People work for openness and integrity
People take actions to impress others, not because they're worthwhile
People assert themselves with sensitivity
People withhold information others need to do their job so they look better than they do
People empower others who have earned empowerment
People take credit they don't deserve
People seek allies so they can do better work
People don't give the boss vital news so the boss won't get upset
People seek visibility so they can do better work
People seek to control others by fear
People behave decently
People strategize to see that others don't look better than they do
People pursue personal goals that are integrated with organizational goals
People "smile to your face" and disparage you "behind your back"
People establish networks to be more effective
People manipulate performance evaluations to please their superiors
People see how their resources can help others in the organization as well as benefit them
People pursue personal goals at the expense of organizational goals
People's words match their deeds ” this is the foundation of integrity
The final exercise, Talking Politics, is a two-page set of guidelines for Individual Work, Part A, and Team Work, Part B. Distribute both pages of Handout C to all trainees. Read aloud the four points on each page, as trainees follow along silently. Pause to answer any questions teams might have about the process, and address any comments that trainees might have about the material thus far. Allow approximately 40 minutes for the Talking Politics exercise. If necessary, to bring the focus back to problem solving, refer to the Four Styles of Organizational Politics grid on the slide or flipchart and guide the discussion to problem solving in trainees' specific organizations.
PART A: Individual Work
Think of one of your work situations involving some problems you may be having in communication with another function. Write it down in the space below.
Where on the Four Styles of Organizational Politics chart would you place your behavior in this situation ”Alienated, Egocentric, Organizational Zealot, or Two-Fold Interest? Circle your answer.
Where on the Four Styles of Organizational Politics chart would you place the person with whom you communicate in this situation ”Alienated, Egocentric, Organizational Zealot, or Two-Fold Interest? Circle your answer.
Be ready to describe this situation and your thinking on the political behavior it involves. Note: Sometimes it is tempting to place others with whom you're having communication problems as low in pursuit of organizational interest, that is, as Alienated or Egocentric. Think carefully about such a quick reaction and consider using different terminology.
In most cases, such a person believes he or she is genuinely pursuing the organization's goals as well as possible. Think about the situation from his or her point of view. Jot down any thoughts you have in the space below.
PART B: Team Work
Describe the situation to your teammates. Discuss what this person might say about his or her behavior. Discuss why the person might believe he or she is pursuing organizational interests. Jot down notes from this discussion in the space below.
Discuss with your team members how your communications might better tie your ideas and proposals into interests that are also organizational interests. Jot down notes from this discussion in the space below.
Without mentioning names , provide your team with specific examples of political behaviors that need to improve in cross-functional communication situations you're involved in. Review the Less-Than-Ethical Politics list. Jot down any notes in the space below.
Without mentioning names, provide your team with specific examples of political behaviors that are ethical in cross-functional communication situations you're involved in. Review the Ethical Politics list. Jot down any notes in the space below.
Robert J. Schemel, Jr.
5 Olde Springs Road
Columbia, SC 29223
DR. ROBERT J. SCHEMEL, JR. , has more than 20 years of experience in the design, development, and implementation of management training programs and organization development interventions. Bob worked in training and organization development at Chemical Bank and Ciba Pharmaceuticals.
He was a member of the Business Administration faculty of Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey for nine years. There he taught courses in communications, team building, social psychology, organizational behavior, organizational structure, management skills, interviewing skills, qualitative research, organizational development, and human resource topics. Bob Schemel is the only foreigner to receive Middle East Technical University's "Professor of the Year" award. He is currently a member of the faculty of South University in Columbia, South Carolina.
Bob received an undergraduate degree in politics and a graduate degree in speech from Maryland University, a graduate degree in psychology from Catholic University, and a doctorate in Adult Education from Columbia University.
Bob Schemel has taught these AMA seminars :
Managing Scientists in Industry
Managing Technical Professionals