The other day I was discussing org structures with a colleague. We agreed there was potential for two parts of the organisation to come into conflict, and we also agreed on the solution: they should talk to each other. For all the procedures and terms of reference that anyone might dream up, in the end they were working for the same organisation and should have the same overall goal—if only they could find the line from their current stance to the common goal.
This reminded me of a story in Scott Berkun’s book “Making things happen”, a guidebook and collection of anecdotes of how the author learned to manage teams and projects effectively in his large organisation. One particular story was how he learned to get on with organisational politics. His team was trying to push their product in one particular direction, but needed support from another part and the manager concerned was being particularly difficult. Scott pushed and pushed but the other manager was still being difficult. Eventually he took Scott to lunch, sat him down, and said, “Look, you think want you want is straightforward, but these are the things I’ve got to think about…” And he set out a whole series of organisational, financial, strategic and interpersonal issues that Scott had never even imagined. “What would you do?” he asked, and Scott didn’t know where to start.
I’m not sure I’d call what Scott Berkun described as “politics”, but perhaps that’s the point. What often looks like political machinations is actually just different people responding to different forces. The larger the organisation the more different those forces are likely to be. By talking with an open mind to those we have differences with we stand a chance of understanding the real reasons for their behaviour. And then we are more likely to be able to find a successful way forward, for everyone.