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Break Free From Office Politics


“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.” ― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Has this happened to you before? Your team member comes up to you and says, “Hey, I know you’re really good at this stuff, would you mind redesigning this proposal?”

You both know this is not part of your job. And though it’s coming across as a request for a favor, based on past experience you know it really is. A demand.

If you don’t do what he says then he’ll somehow punish you through various forms of shame, guilt or anger. Though you want to say “No,” you end up agreeing and expect a quid pro quo in the future.

This way of getting work done is very common in organizations, and most of the time it’s not an intentional process. It’s an unconscious process.

What do I mean by that? When static job descriptions become outdated, team members are not sure what they can expect from each other. They have no choice but to use politics and implicit language to get things done through others. However, this kind of behavior creates a dysfunctional team.

Holacracy Practice Brings Clarity

“The enemy of accountability is ambiguity” ― Patrick Lencioni

One of the biggest benefits of practicing Holacracy is the clarity that it brings to the organization. The work of the organization is broken down into dynamic roles. Each role has accountabilities that serve the overall purpose of the organization. Here’s what it looks like in my organization:

This gives the team clarity on what to expect from each other, and the freedom to use clear language when making requests. They no longer have to say: “Hey Jim, would you mind letting me know what you think?” when they really mean “In your role as the Website Manager, I need an official decision on this.”

However, with requests, you may or may not have the right to expect. And depending upon the intensity of your request, you can use the appropriate language.

Here are some examples of the language you can use to make clear requests:

Check out more examples of communication phrases for organizations practicing Holacracy

But what if you’re not sure if you’ve got a right to expect? In that case, you can always check by asking:

  • Would it serve your role to take a next action?
  • I’d like to request a project. Does it make sense in your role to take it?

As the receiver of the request, knowing where the request falls helps you to handle it with ease and clarity. You’ll know how to prioritize it with respect to other commitments.

Also, if you’re not clear on whether the request is a favor or something expected, you can always clarify by asking:

  • Is this just an FYI, or are you expecting something from me?
  • Are you sharing your opinion, or are you requesting something?
  • I don’t have any accountability on this, but I’m happy to share my opinion.

Doesn’t that feel better than using politics and implicit language to get things done?

People are not intentionally political in organizations, but it’s an emergent behavior property of a system where accountabilities are ambiguous.

Office politics creates negativity and animosity between colleagues. To break free from it, organizational clarity is key.

Do you want to bring enable ongoing clarity in your organization? Visit Holacracy to learn more.

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