Navigating a difficult political situation

February 15, 2016 3coze

Organizational change is difficult to navigate at the best of times. When structures shift, processes transform, and expectations rise, you’re already stretched out of your comfort zone. Now imagine the added angst when that change includes new bosses, making obvious power grabs, forming inner circles, and engaging in various forms of political behavior. The strain on your team can be overwhelming.

If your team is cross-functional, with ties into different parts of your organization, this change might affect some of your team members differently than others. In the worst case scenario, you have winners and losers on the team. That can bring the conflict from outside the team, inside. Your good fortune in coming out on the positive side of a change can quickly turn to discord if your less-fortunate teammates envy your position.

If your teammates are struggling through an organizational change, there are a few things you can do to support them and to keep the team on the same side.

Fight exclusion

One of the ways that politics plays out is that leaders with newfound power pull some people into their inner circle while simultaneously excluding others. Often, this behavior is in reaction to past grievances; you see wide swings in fortune as those who once were the insiders are suddenly excluded as the newly anointed exert their power.

If you’ve found yourself in the inner circle (or at least in the room) in the new era, help your teammates by making sure they are included where they should be. If you see a meeting invitation without them on it, do something. If you’re in a position of strength, simply reply saying “I noticed Pat was excluded, copying him on the invite.” If you’re less confident, respond to the meeting organizer with a request to include the person and a quick rationale for what he or she will contribute.

If you can’t get your teammate into the meeting, you need to represent his perspective. Huddle with him beforehand to get his input. Raise his point of view when it’s in contrast to the views expressed in the room. Most importantly, take the time to communicate afterward about the discussion in the meeting. At least that way you’ll ensure that he’s in the know.

Lend support with key stakeholders

Another way you can support a teammate who finds herself on the wrong side of a political situation is by helping her build relationships with key stakeholders. If you have a relationship with someone that she doesn’t, your knowledge and understanding of that person is extremely valuable.

Share your impressions of the new stakeholder so your teammate has a sense of what the person is all about. What do you know of their backstory? What works with the person and what doesn’t? How do you communicate most effectively with the person? Are there any no-no’s or taboos that she should know about?

While it can be helpful to arm your teammate with information about a key stakeholder, it can be even more useful to weigh in directly. When you have an opportunity, share your endorsement of your teammate. “I hear you are working with Sally now, she’s really great. Her relationships with our suppliers are particularly useful.” In other situations, you won’t want to endorse the person directly, but you might have the opportunity to support her opinion. “I want to add my voice to the chorus recommending the price changes. I think it’s going to go a long way in strengthening our supplier relationships.”

Allow a safe place to vent

Getting your teammate included in the conversation and assisting him with stakeholder management is great, but sometimes your assistance is simply in providing a safe place for him to vent. If your teammate is facing an uphill battle trying to establish or turnaround key relationships, there will be days when it all gets a little overwhelming. On those days, your job is simply to listen.

Provide an opportunity for venting by suggesting you grab a coffee or a bite to eat in a place where you can talk without being overheard. It probably won’t take much more than “how’s it going?” to open the floodgates. As your teammate starts to share how he is experiencing the change, there’s one really important thing you need to ask, “How can I help?”

There are two types of answers to this question: first, some people will signal that they just need an outlet. When that’s the case, don’t make recommendations, don’t try to solve things, just listen. If, through good intentions, you ignore this advice and try to solve his problem for him, it can feel condescending and can even contribute to his feelings of insecurity.

If, on the other hand, he makes it clear he needs some help, it’s fine to provide suggestions…

Be a sounding board and coach

If your teammate is open to some assistance, there are many ways you can help. You can provide advice on how to succeed in the new environment. You can coach her on the influence strategies available. You can be the sounding board where she can test out her pitch before taking it to the new boss.

If your teammate is fairing poorly in the new world order, her judgment might be compromised. It’s really helpful if you can provide sober second thought. We’ve all heard a friend share the a piece of her mind and thought “you might not want to say it quite THAT way.” When that happens, a small redirect to a more constructive way of framing the issue is extremely valuable.

Provide the occasional kick in the pants

Finally, there are moments when the absolute best thing you can do for a teammate who’s struggling is to give them a kick in the pants. “This is not the James that I’m used to. I think it’s time to move on and get back to a more positive outlook.”

Dealing with a messy and political organizational change can be the death of your team camaraderie or it can be the fire that forges a stronger bond. When things get bumpy, do you part to cushion the ride.

 

Further Reading

Dealing with office politics in getting promoted

In defence of senior management

Help a teammate who’s being defensive

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