Many CEOs or managers often find themselves up against organisational politics that impede strategy execution. Historical divisions and entrenched power structures can create barriers to desired change. Navigating these political domains in organisations require awareness of two important dimensions. First is the spectrum at which the political activity takes place between the individual or organisational level. The second dimension is the source of informal or formal power. Using these two dimensions, the four typical types of organisational politics can be described as “the weeds”, “the rocks”, “the high ground”, and “the woods”. Here’s how to approach these situations:
The weeds – The weeds, where individual influence and informal networks rule, can naturally form without any deliberate effort. To deal with the weeds, seek to understand the informal networks at play and identify the key influence brokers, so you can isolate them and increase your own influence.
The rocks – Navigating the terrain here, where individuals have formal sources of authority reign, consists of redirecting the energy of a dysfunctional leader, either through reasoned argument or by appealing to their interests.
The high ground – If you find yourself on the high ground, which combines formal authority embedded within organisational systems such as committees, you can suggest that a separate group or task force (e.g. Innovation Lab) needs to be set up to examine an issue or bridge silos. It can create an unconstrained ‘working space’ outside of the norms and routines of the organisation.
The woods – The woods are characterised by organisations with implicit norms, hidden assumptions and unspoken routines. The key here is to make the implicit explicit and bring those implicit routines and behaviours to the surface. Ask external stakeholders and specialist experts about their observations of the company or get information from benchmark surveys. Once the implicit assumptions are out in the open, ask your team to reflect on how those assumptions are helping or hindering the strategy.
50 years since its founding, Southwest Airlines is still flying high. Despite not being the best in terms of airline performance, the company is ranked second to last on customer complaints. For an airline that many believed would not have succeeded, the CEO credits the competitive advantage to its people. And the company is so zealous about its people that it has a Culture Committee.
The Culture Committee overseas the orientation for new employees. That’s not all of course, the Committee ensures that the right – in this case fun-loving – people get hired into the company in the first place. The belief goes that if the employees are having fun, they will have a happier time serving customers, and ultimately passengers are going to get a better flying experience. In reflecting its people-centric ethos, the company has also created multiple galleries where employees contribute pets photos or even military medals to make all feel at home.
The Culture Committee eventually morphed into the Culture Services Committee, which till today takes it role very seriously. A case in point is the handling of compliments about specific employees: they not only get highlighted to the employee’s manager, but also get highlighted to the manager’s manager. What’s fun if there are no parties? Lots in fact – career milestones with the company or even wedding anniversaries all get celebrated with pomp and fun. The company believes it ultimately pays off to invest in culture through budgeting, resources, and time. If the airline’s expansion plans are any indication, Southwest Airlines may well have a very profitable intangible asset that sustains its competitive advantage.
In reality, most leaders do not have the luxury of building up a new team from scratch. Instead they are put in charge of an existing team, which could be the one that created the situation that the leaders needed to fix. When replacing members in the short term is not an option, they should broadly speaking assess, reshape and accelerate team development.
The new manager should quickly size up the dynamics of the team that is inherited, gathering information from preferably one-on-one chats, team meetings, and stakeholders. At the same time, reflect on the business challenges facing the firm, and the kinds of people needed in various roles, and the degree to which they collaborate.
Having that understanding, adjust the composition of the team by moving people to new positions where there is a better fit, redefining their job scope or responsibilities, or replacing them as a last resort. Ensure that everyone’s goals and incentives are aligned by changing the team’s direction if necessary. Also think about how changes can be made to the way the team operates (e.g. creating new sub-teams, frequency of meetings or running meetings differently to focus on strategic or operational issues) to improve team performance. Further, establishing ground rules and processes to sustain desired behaviors or eliminate destructive behaviors, and revisit those periodically especially when there is a change in membership.
Above all, set the team up for early wins. With the initial successes, they will boost everyone’s confidence and reinforce the value of the new operating model, paving the way for ongoing growth.
Source: Havard Business Review
Imagine a single fish that is swimming ahead of a shoal. Anglo managers, i.e. those from the UK, North America, and Australia, would view the leading fish as the pioneer that leads individualist fishes from the front. Japanese counterparts would view it as a metaphor for a cohesive team working together behind a collectivist leader. Interestingly, Nordic peers would see the shoal bringing the leading fish back into the group, since no one is perceived as more special than another. As these differences in perception are driven by the various notions of power distance in these cultures, it is important to understand these subtleties when leading a multicultural team.
Source: London Business School
Networking is often nuanced depending on the cultural context. It is naturally challenging for someone to learn the subtleties of networking in another culture. In some cultures, connections are often made to accomplish a specific task. Yet in other cultures, one might add someone to his or her network because of their group affiliations. In such a context, the networking goal is about developing long-term strategic relationships. In cultures where group dynamics are especially important, the process of building networks also become more elaborate. Depending on the culture you’re interacting with, be flexible about reacting faster or staying patient. Also be prepared to accept that you may need to nurture connections in ways that feel out of sync or unrelated to what you are hoping to get out of the relationship.
Source: Tanveer Naseer