Handling the four political barriers to strategy execution

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.