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 rarer 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:
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
- Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting
something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders.
Why does this happen?
- Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good
news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity?
- On Ineffectual Leaders
- When the leader of an important business unit is ineffectual, we need to make a change to protect the
organization. Because termination can seem daunting, people often turn to one or more of a variety of
other options. Those options have risks.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
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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.