MGT504 - Organization Theory and Design - Lecture Handout 41

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Politics, like power, is intangible and difficult to measure. It is hidden from view and is hard to observe in a systematic way. Two recent surveys uncovered the following reactions of managers toward political behavior.

  1. Most managers have a negative view toward politics and believe that politics will more often hurt than help an organization in achieving its goals.
  2. Managers believe political behavior occurs more often at upper rather than lower level in organizations.
  3. Most manages think political behavior occurs more often at upper rather than lower levels in organizations.
  4. Political behavior arises in certain decision domains, such as structural change. But is absent from other decision, such as handling employee grievances.

Based on these surveys, politics seems more likely to occur at the top levels of an organization and around certain issues and decisions. Moreover, managers do not approve of political behavior.


Power has been described as the available force or potential for achieving desired outcomes. Politics is the use of power to influence decisions in order to achieve those outcomes. The exercise of power and influence has led to two ways to define politics –as self – serving behavior or as a natural organizational decision process. The first definition emphasizes that politics is self – serving and involves activities that are not sanctioned by the organization.

In this view, politics involves deception and dishonesty for purposes of individual self – interest and leads to conflict and disharmony within the work environment. This dark view of politics is widely held by laypeople. Recent studies have shown that workers who perceive this kind of political activity at work within their companies often have related feelings of anxiety and job dissatisfaction. Studies also support the belief that inappropriate use of politics is related to low employee morale, inferior organizational performance, and poor decision making. This view of politics explains why mangers in the surveys described above did not approve of political behavior.

Although politics can be used in a negative, self – serving way, the appropriate use of political behavior can serve organizational goals. The second view sees politics as a natural organizational process for resolving differences among organizational interest groups. Politics is the process of bargaining and negotiation that is used to overcome conflicts and differences of opinion. In this view, politics is very similar to the coalition – building decision processes.

The organization theory perspective views politics as described in the second definition as a normal decisionmaking process. Politics is simply the activity through which power is exercised in the resolution of conflicts and uncertainty. Politics is neutral and is not necessarily harmful to the organization. The formal definition of organizational political is as follows; organizational politics involves activities to acquire, develop, and use power and other resources to obtain the preferred outcome when there is uncertainty or disagreement about choices.

Political behavior can be either a positive or a negative force. Politics is the use of power to get things accomplished – good things as well as bad. Uncertainty and conflict are natural and inevitable, and politics is the mechanism for reaching agreement. Politics includes informal discussions that enable participants to arrive at consensus and make decisions that otherwise might be stalemated or unsolvable.


Politics is a mechanism for arriving at consensus when uncertainty is high and there is disagreement over goals or problem priorities. The political model is associated with conflict over goals, shifting coalitions and interest groups, ambiguous information, and uncertainty. Thus, political activity tends to be most visible when managers confront non-programmed decision and is related to the Carnegie model of decision making. Because managers at the top of an organization generally deal with more non-programmed decision than do mangers at lower levels, more political activity will appear. Moreover, some issues are associated with inherent disagreement. Resources, for example, are critical for the survival and effectiveness of departments, so resource allocation often becomes a political issue, “Rational methods of allocation do not satisfy participants. Three domain of political activity (areas in which politics plays a role) in most organizations are structural change, management succession, and resources allocation.

Structural re-organizations strike at the heart of power and authority relationship, Re-organizations such as change responsibilities and tasks, which also affects the underlying power base from strategic contingencies. For these reasons, a major reorganization can lead to an explosion of political activity. Managers may actively bargain and negotiate to maintain the responsibilities and power bases they have.

Organizational changes such as hiring new executives, promotions, and transfers have great political significance, particularly at top organizational levels where uncertainty is high and networks of trusts, cooperation, and communication among executives are important. Hiring decision can generate uncertainty, discussion, and disagreement. Managers can use hiring and promotion to strengthen network alliances and coalitions by putting their own people in prominent positions.

The third area of political activity is resource allocation. Resource allocation decision encompass all resources required for organizational performance, including salaries, operating budgets, employees, office facilities, equipment, use of the company airplane, and so forth. Resources are so vital that disagreement about priorities exists, and political processes help resolve the dilemmas.


Power in organizations is not primarily a phenomenon of the individual. It is related to the resources departments’ command, the role departments play in an organization, and the environmental contingencies with which departments cope. Position and responsibility more than personality and style determine a manager’s influence on outcomes in the organization.

Power is used though individual political behavior, however individual managers seek agreement about a strategy to achieve their departments’ desired outcomes. Individual managers negotiate decision and adopt tactics that enables them to acquire and use power. In addition, managers develop ways to increase cooperation and collaboration within the organization to reduce damaging conflicts.

To fully understand the use of power within organizations, it is important to look at both structural components and individual behavior. Although the power comes from larger organizational forms and processes, the political use of power involves individual-level activities. This section briefly summarizes tactics that mangers can use to increase the power base of their departments, political collaboration.


Four tactics for increasing power are as follows:

Enter areas of high uncertainty: One source of department power is to cope with critical uncertainties. If department mangers can identify key uncertainties and take steps to remove those uncertainties, the department’s power base will be enhanced. Uncertainties could arise from stoppages on an assembly line, from the needed quality of a new product, or from the inability to predict a demand for new services, once an uncertainty is identified, the department can take action to cope with it. By their very nature, uncertain tasks will not be solved immediately. Trial and error will be needed, which is to the advantage of the department, the trial – and error process provides experience and expertise that cannot easily be duplicated by other departments.

  1. Create dependencies. Dependencies are another source of power. When the organization depends on a department for information, materials, knowledge, or skills, that department will hold power over the others. This
    power can be increased by incurring obligations. Doing additional work that helps out other departments will
    obligate the other departments to respond at a future date. The power accumulated by crating a dependency can be used to resolve future disagreements in the department’s favor. An equally effective and related strategy is to reduce dependency on other departments by acquiring necessary information or skills, for example, information technology departments have created dependencies in much organization because of the rapid changes in this area. Employees in other departments depend on the information technology unit to master complex software programs, changing use of the internet, and other advances so that they will have the information they need to perform effectively.
  2. Provide resources. Resources are always important to organizational survival. Departments that accumulate resources and provide them to an organization in the form of money, information, or facilities will be powerful. For
    example, in Practice 12.2. Described how university departments with the greatest power are those that obtain
    external research funds for contributions to university overhead. Likewise, sales departments are powerful in industrial firms because they bring in financial resources.
  3. Satisfy strategic Contingencies. The theory of strategic contingencies says that some elements in the external environment and within the organization are especially important for organizational success. A contingency could be a critical event, a task for which there are no substitutes, or a central task that is inter-dependent with many others in the organization. An analysis of the organization and its changing environment will reveal strategic contingencies. To the extent that contingencies are new or are not being satisfied, there is room for a department to move into those critical areas and increase its importance and power.

In summary, the allocation of power in an organization is not random. Power is the result of organizational processes that can be understood and predicted. The abilities to reduce uncertainty, increase dependency on one’s own department, obtain resources, and cope with strategic contingencies will all enhance a department’s power. Once is available, the next challenge is to use it to attain helpful outcomes.


The use of power in organizations requires both skill and willingness. Many decisions are made through political processes because rational decision processes do not fit. Uncertainty or disagreement is too high. Political tactics for using power to influence decision outcomes include the following.

  1. Build coalitions. Coalition building means taking the time to talk with other managers to persuade them to your point of view. Most important decisions are made outside formal meetings. Managers discuss issues with each
    other and reach agreements on a one – to – one basis. Effective managers are those who huddle, meeting in groups of twos and threes to resolve key issues. An important aspect of coalition building is to build good relationships. An important aspect of coalitions building is to build good relationships. Good interpersonal relationships are built on liking, trust, and respect. Reliability and the motivation to work with others rather than exploit other are part of coalition building.
  2. Expand networks. Networks can be expanded (1) by reaching out to establish contact with additional managers and (2) by co-opting dissenters. The first approach is to build new alliances through the hiring, transfer, and promotion process. Placing in key positions people who are sympathetic to the outcomes of the department can help achieve departmental goals. On the other hand, the second approach, co-optation, is the act of brining a dissenter into one’s network. One example of co-optation involved a university committee whose membership was based on promotion and tenure. Several female professor who were critical of the tenure and promotion process, were appointed to the committee. Once a part of the administrative process, they could see the administrative point of view and learned that administrators were not as evil as suspected. Co-optation effectively brought them into the administrative network.
  3. Control Decision premises. To control decision premises means to constrain the boundaries of a decision. One technique is to choose or limit information provided to other mangers. A common method is simply to put your department’s best foot forward, such as selectively resenting favorable criteria. A variety of statistics can be assembled to support the departmental point of view. A university department that is growing rapidly and has a
    large number of students can make claims for additional resources by emphasizing its growth and large size. Such
    objective criteria do not always work, but they are a valuable step. Decision premises can be further influenced by limiting the decision process. Decisions can be influenced by the items put on agendas for an important meeting or even by the sequence in which items are discussed. Item discussed last, when time is short and people want to leave, will receive less attention than those discussed early, Calling attention to specific problems and suggesting alternatives also will affect outcomes. Stressing a specific problem to get it rather than problems not relevant to your department on the agenda is an example of agenda setting.
  4. Enhance legitimacy and expertise. Managers can exert the greatest influence in areas in which they have recognized legitimacy and expertise. If a request is within the task domain of a department and is consistent with
    the department’s versed interest, other departments will tend to comply. Members can also identify external
    consultants or other experts within the organization to support their cause. For example, a financial vie-president in
    a large retail firm wanted to fire the director of human resource management. She hired a consultant to evaluate the human resource management projects undertaken to date. A negative report from the consultant provided sufficient legitimacy to fire the director, who was replaced with a director loyal to the financial vice – president.
  5. Make preferences explicit, but keep power implicit. If managers do not ask, they seldom receive; Political activity is effective only when goals and needs are made explicit so the organization can respond. Managers should bargain aggressively and be persuasive. An assertive proposal may be accepted because other managers have no
    better alternative. Moreover, an explicit proposal will often receive favorable treatment because other alternatives are ambiguous and less well defined. Effective political behavior requires sufficient forcefulness and risk taking to at least try to achieve desired outcomes.

The use of power, however, should not be obvious. If one formally draws, upon his or her power base in a meeting by saying, “my department has more power, so the rest of you have to do it may,” the power will be diminished. Power works best when it is used quietly. To call attention to power is to lose it. Explicit claims for power are made by the power less, not by the powerful. People know who has power. There is substantial agreement on which departments re more powerful. Explicit claims to power are not necessary and can even harm the department’s cause.

When using any of the preceding tactics, recall that most people feel self serving behavior hurts rather than help an organization, if managers are perceived to be throwing their weight around or are perceived to be after things that are self – serving rather than beneficial to the organization, they will lose respect, on the other hand, managers must recognize the relational and political aspect of their work. It is not sufficient to be rational and technically competent. Politics is a way to reach agreement. When managers ignore political tactics, they may find themselves failing without understanding why. This happened to Jeff Glover, a new manager with a firm in California’s Silicon Valley.

A few weeks later, Glover learned from a friend that the sales manager had immediately disliked Glover idea when it was proposed. He didn’t want his people to develop new knowledge about hospitals and medical purchasing practices. He had gotten one of his people to develop pessimistic numbers about market potential and had suggested to top management that time not be wasted on Glover’s project.

Glover’s problem was that he naively assumed the logic and technical merits of his proposed machine would carry the day. He ignored political relationships, especially with the sales manager. He did not take the time to build a network of support for the project among key managers. He should have devoted more time to building a collation and enhancing the legitimacy of his proposal, perhaps with his own market research.


Power and political tactics are important means for getting things done within organizations. Most organizations today have at least moderate inter-unit conflict. An additional approach in many organizations is to overcome conflict by simulating cooperation and collaboration among departments to support the attainment of organizational goals. Tactics for enhancing collaboration include the following;

1. Create integration devices: Task forces, and project managers who span the boundaries between departments can be used as integration devices. Bringing together representatives from conflicting departments in joint problemsolving teams is an effective way to enhance collaboration because representatives learn to understand each other’s point of view. Sometimes a full – time integrator is assigned to achieve cooperation and collaboration by meeting with members of the respective departments and exchanging information. The integrator has to understand each group’s problems and must be able to move both groups toward a solution that is mutually acceptable.

As an outgrowth of teams and task forces, many organizations today are restricting into permanent multidisciplinary, self – directed Work teams focused on horizontal process rather than function. At Saturn Corporations, teams of about fifteen employees handle everything from production schedules and new car quality to budgeting and hiring new workers. Teams and task forces reduce conflict and enhance cooperation because they integrate people from different reduce conflict and enhance cooperation because they integrate people from different departments, integration devices can be also be used to enhance cooperation between labor and management, as the example, of Aluminum Company of America and the International Association of Machinists illustrates.

Aluminum Company of America / International of Machinists

When representative from the international Association of Machinists (IAM) approached David Groetsch, President of a division of Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and offered to help create a new work system. Groetsch immediately agreed to give it a try. Alcoa managers joined union leaders for a week-long course at the union’s school in Maryland. Where they learned how to set up a labor – management partnership and spur productivity working together labor and management studied everything from the history of high performance systems to new accounting methods to help measure them. Following the course the union sent experts free for charge to help union leaders and managers from manufacturing to making create teams and joint decision – making councils.

The IAM is at the forefront of revolutionary change in the relationship between labor and management. After decades of suspicion about company – sponsored teams many unions are now actively embracing the concept of partnership. According to Groetsch relationship on the shop floor at Alcoa have improved because each side better understands the other’s concerns. “The days of 1950s style table –banging aren’t gone yet,” says laborers” President Arthur C. Cola. Whose union is also involved in cooperative ventures? However, the use of integration devices is dramatically improving cooperative relationships between labor and management.

Labor-management teams, which are designed to increase worker participation and provide a cooperative model for union-management problems, are increasingly being used at companies such as Goodyear, Ford Motor Company, and Xerox, in the steel industry, companies such as USX and Wheeling – Pittsburgh Steel Corp. have signed pacts that give union representatives seats on the board. Although unions continue to battle over traditional issues such as wages, these integration devices are creating a level of cooperation that many managers would not have believed possible just a few years ago.

2. Use conformations and negotiation: Confrontation occurs when parties in conflict directly engage one another and try to work out their differences. Negotiation is the bargaining process that often occurs during confrontations and that enables the parties to systematically reach a solution. These techniques bring appointed representatives from the departments together to work out a serious dispute.

Confrontation and negotiation involve some risk. There is no guarantee that discussions will focus on a conflict or that emotions will not get out of hand. However, if members are able to resolve the conflict on the basis of face-toface discussions, they will find new respect for each other, and future collaboration becomes easier. The beginnings of relatively permanent attitude change are possible through direct negotiations.

For example, one technique used by companies is to have each department had meet face – to – face once a month with each of the other department heads and list what he or she expects from that department. After discussion and negotiation, department heads sign off on their commitment to perform the services on the list. The regular contact develops managers’ skills as well as their desire to work out conflicts and solve problems among themselves.

Confrontation is successful when managers engage in a “win- win” strategy. Win-win means both departments adopt a positive attitude and strive to resolve the conflict in a way that will benefit each other. Ron Shapiro and Mark Janknowski, who negotiate deals for star athletes, suggest that each side should clearly identify, in descending order of importance, what it truly wants out of the negotiation and then try to do the same thing for the other side. Eventually determining how the two side’s interests mesh. If the negotiations deteriorate into a strictly win –lose strategy (each group wants to defeat the other), the confrontation will be ineffective. Top management can urge group members to work toward mutually acceptable outcomes. One type of negotiation used to resolve a disagreement between workers and management is referred to as collective bargaining. The bargaining process is usually accomplished through a union and results in an agreement that specifies each party’s responsibilities for the next two to three years. Union management negotiations are currently underway at several major U.S airlines, including US Airways, TWA, Northwest, Delta, and United.

3. Schedule inter-group consultation: When conflict is intense and enduring, and department members are suspicious and uncooperative, managers can bring in a third party consultant to work with the groups. This process, sometimes called workplace mediation, is a strong intervention to reduce conflict because it involves brining the disputing parties together and allowing each side to present its version of “reality.” The technique has been developed by such psychologists as Robert Blake, Jane Mouton, and Richard Walton.

Department members attend a workshop, which may last for several days, away from day to day work problems. This approach is similar to the OD approach. The steps typically associated with an inter –group training session are as follows;

  1. The conflicting groups are brought into a training setting with the stated goals of exploring mutual perceptions and relationship.
  2. The conflicting groups are then separated, and each group is invited to discuss and make a list of its perceptions of itself and the other group.
  3. In the presence of both groups, group representatives publicly share the perceptions of self and other that the groups have generated, and the groups are obligated to remain silent. The objective is simply to report to the other group as accurately as possible the images that each group has developed in private.
  4. Before any exchange takes place, the groups return to private sessions to digest and analyze what they have heard; there is great likelihood that the representatives reports have revealed to each group discrepancies between
    its self image and the image the other group holds of its.
  5. In public session, again working through representatives, each group shares with the other what discrepancies it has uncovered and the possible reasons for them, focusing on actual, observable behavior.
  6. Following this mutual exposure, a more open exploration is permitted between the two groups, on the now – shared goal of identifying further reasons for perceptual distortions.
  7. A joint exploration is then conducted of how to manage future relations in such a way as to encourage cooperation among groups.

Inter-group consultation can be quite demanding for everyone involved. It is fairly easy to have conflicting group’s list perceptions and identify discrepancies. However, exploring their differences face to face and agreeing to change is more difficult. If handled correctly, these sessions can help department employees understand each other much better and lead to improved attitudes and better working relationships for years to come.

4. Practice member rotation: Rotation means individuals from one department can be asked to work in another department on a temporary or permanent basis. The advantage is that individuals become submerged in the values, attitudes, problems, and goals of the other department. In addition, individuals can explain the problems and goals of their original departments to their new colleagues. This enables a frank, accurate exchange of views and information.

Rotations work slowly to reduce conflict but are very effective for changing the underlying attitudes and perceptions that promote conflict.

5. Create shared mission and super-ordinate goals: Another strategy is for top management to create a shared mission and establish super-ordinate goals that require cooperation among departments. Organizations with strong, adaptive cultures, where employees share a larger vision for their company, are more likely to have a united, cooperative workforce. Recent studies have shown that when employees from different departments see that their goals are linked together, they will openly share resources and information. To be effective, super-ordinate goals must be substantial, and employees must be granted the time to work cooperatively toward those goals. The reward system can also be redesigned to encourage the pursuit of the super-ordinate goals rather than departmental sub - goals.

Perhaps the most powerful super-ordinate goals are company survival. If an organizations is about to fail and jobs will be lost, groups forget their differences and try to save the organization. The goal of survivals has improved relationships among groups in meat packing plants and auto supply firms that have been about to go out of business. At Harley–Davidson Inc.., internal relationships as well as union- management relationships dramatically improved after top executives made it clear that the company was facing extinction. Harley – Davidson now applies the concept of self – directed work teams from the shop floor to the executive suite, and the workers closes to the job have the authority and responsibility to do their jobs as they see fit, in addition, all workers attend eighty hours of training. This includes training in communication and conflict resolution. The company negotiated agreements with its two unions. The international Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the United Paperworkers international, to share a commitment to making Harley a high – performance organization. The new level of cooperation helped the company weather the turbulence and rise again to the pinnacle of American business success.

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