Understanding and tackling office politics

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Marketing drive is behind many projects with the company either wanting to beat a competitor with a similar product or wanting to offer something that isn’t already available. Deadlines are often discussed even before the project team is brought into the discussions, and unfortunately, this way of doing things is not unusual. The project may not have been effectively scoped but, and you will certainly learn this in any training courses for PMs, and with project management experience, you will know how to effectively handle the situation, even though you might not like it.

They might need to scale back on functionality and features, and maybe draft new temporary members into the team, but these are issues they will likely have faced before, and dealt with.

The one thing, however that can really cause issues in a project is office politics, and this is something even the most experienced project manager can struggle to deal with. When different individuals within a company have different agendas, the project can suffer, and with a 70% failure rate for new projects, it is important to remove as many of the obstacles that might cause this as possible.

Why might office politics happen?

There are a number of reasons for office politics to happen. Someone might feel slighted at being overlooked for promotion, for example. There is no clear definition for office politics however, it is generally a situation where a team or individual look for an advantage over another team or individual. This can cause a disadvantage or, in extreme cases, result in dismissal.

Office politics is difficult to avoid or ignore and must be dealt with before it has an impact on a project. Avoidance of the issue is never a good strategy and can often damage a project or result in others taking credit for success. Don’t ignore the early warning signs you should always tackle the problems so that your reputation doesn’t take a hit.

At a glance, office politics occur because:

  • The office hierarchy has different levels of influence and power
  • Someone is seeking promotion
  • People are in general highly competitive
  • Team and individual objectives don’t always align
  • Teams compete for limited resources or greater reward and recognition

There are a number of different ways in which these types of situations can be tackled. However, in order to do so you need to first understand the cause behind any negative behaviour. Once you have had a chance to observe and have a better understanding of exactly where the problem lies, you can start tackling it.

A good way of doing this is to create an informal focus group that will allow you to bring different opinions within your project together. Having a smaller network within your team can also help to counteract the effects of negative politics and improve internal relationships.

Training for project managers will give you a lot of the skills that you can use to manage these office politics and are, in fact, similar to those you might employ to manage stakeholders as well.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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