Find the political animal in your staff

Robina Chatham, lecturer in IS, Cranfield School of Management The resignation of Peter Mandelson last week underlined the...

Robina Chatham, lecturer in IS, Cranfield School of Management The resignation of Peter Mandelson last week underlined the tarnished reputation of politics, whether it be the kind practiced in the Houses of Parliament or in the corridors of every corporate building, writes Ross Bentley

But, says Robina Chatham of Cranfield School of Management, corporate politics is an inevitable dynamic of a company structure and should be embraced, not avoided. She says that it is during the schmoozing and networking that relationships are built and influence gained.

Chatham runs a course on organisational politics and has written several white papers on the personality profile of IT workers. She suggests that the average IT professional is likely to avoid any potential conflicts and prefers to get things done through conventional routes.

"IT people tend to stick to the rules," says Chatham. "They construe corporate politics as someone trying to get one over someone else, scoring points, doing deals and resulting in a win-lose-type situation.

"However, in most cases, corporate politics is really about people getting things done - where collaborative efforts start, where people can be open and honest and where a win-win position can be achieved."

"But IT staff are busy," I hear you cry. "We have not got the time to run around networking." Well, surely you have to take time out to eat?

Do not spend lunchtime eating in front of your monitor. Get out and lunch with colleagues from other parts of the business, says Chatham. "Often, it is in this less pressurised environment that ideas are formed and relationships forged."

But, says Chatham, it is one thing to recognise the secret political life beneath the day-to-day running of a company, it is another to participate with integrity.

With regards to corporate politics, Chatham recognises four distinct psychological profiles within large firms:

  • Baboons cannot play the game of company politics. they will be Machiavellian but will often conspire with the powerless. He sees things in black and white.

  • Foxes exude a charming veneer but beneath the surface are self-centred and slightly insecure. The fox will exploit others' weaknesses and relishes games where there are winners and losers.

  • Sheep see things with a wide-eyed simplicity and believe that those in authority are right. They are principled but have difficulty forming alliances.

  • Dolphins are creative and imaginative and take account of other people's views. The dolphin shares information and likes to engineer win-win situations.

    Apparently, the average IT worker is more likely to demonstrate the traits of the sheep. What do ewe think?

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