If you've ever run into roadblocks as you tried to get your work done, and if those roadblocks were due to delays and decisions by co-workers, you might have felt that some people were actually trying to block your efforts. Although intentional obstruction is probably more rare than it seems, the ability to recognize it when it does occur is nevertheless helpful.
Here's Part II of a little catalog of obstructionist tactics. See "Obstructionist Tactics: I," Point Lookout for July 23, 2008, for Part I.
- Misrepresenting to regulators
- If the output or processes of the team are subject to regulation, internal or external, the obstructor can convey misinformation to the regulators. The information conveyed might contain a germ of truth, but it's usually packaged in a manner that creates or stimulates the urge to investigate. The investigation is then a source of delay and distraction to the team.
- Agitating stakeholders
- Obstructors who have contact with external stakeholders, such as customers, might elect to motivate them by disclosing information the obstructors consider to be influential relative to their own aims. The external stakeholders then attempt to accelerate the action of the group in the stakeholders' preferred direction, which, by the design of the obstructor, interferes with the group's progress.
- A technique available to managers involves promoting someone into a position for which he or she might or might not be qualified, so as to gain political advantage for the manager. When this is done, there is an agreement in advance between the obstructing manager and the person promoted. That agreement makes clear between them that the manager's agenda is primary, and that the person promoted will take actions to promote that agenda, deniably, in a manner always consistent with organizational policy. That agenda can include obstruction.
- Career trashing
- Most visible, inspiring objectives have champions — people who have successfully communicated the inspiring objective throughout the organization. To delay, or even halt, movement toward those objectives, obstructors sometimes attack the person of the champion. By trashing the career of the champion, obstructors deprive the target task of its voice, sometimes fatally weakening the organizational will to continue.
- Any complex group effort entails making a series of decisions, and then building on the foundation they comprise. Obstructors can disrupt progress by raising questions about previously settled decisions. The parts of the foundation with greatest leverage are those that underlie large numbers of subsequent choices. These decisions are the favored targets of obstructors who use this tactic.
- Misrepresenting the environment
- Obstructors can disrupt
progress by raising questions
- Both organizations and projects require accurate, effective situational awareness. They must understand the competitive environment, their suppliers, and their customers. By propagating misinformation about the competitive or intellectual environment, or by delaying the transfer of accurate information, obstructors can confuse, mislead, or stimulate debate about objectives, tasks, or persons (especially rivals). The resulting discussions are at least distracting, and could lead to delays and bad decisions.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources.
Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: II
- When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually
exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic
- More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes
miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.