When we see organizations as political systems we are
drawing clear parallels between how organizations are run and systems of
political rule. We may refer to ‘democracies’, ‘autocracy’ or even ‘anarchy’ to
describe what is going on in a particular organization. Here we are describing
the style of power rule employed in that organization.
The political metaphor is useful because it recognizes the
important role that power play, competing interests and conflict have in
organizational life. Gareth Morgan comments, ‘Many people hold the belief that
business and politics should be kept apart… But the
person advocating the case of employee rights or industrial democracy is not
introducing a political issue so much as arguing for a different approach to a
situation that is already political.’
The key beliefs are:
You can’t stay out of organizational politics. You’re
already in it.
Building support for your approach is essential if you want
to make anything happen.
You need to know who is powerful, and who they are close
There is an important political map which overrides the
published organizational structure.
Coalitions between individuals are more important than work
The most important decisions in an organization concern the
allocation of scarce resources, that is, who gets what, and these are reached
through bargaining, negotiating and vying for position.
This leads to the following assumptions about organizational
The change will not work unless it’s supported by a powerful
The wider the support for this change the better.
It is important to understand the political map, and to
understand who will be winners and losers as a result of this change.
Positive strategies include creating new coalitions and
What are the limitations of this metaphor? The disadvantage of
using this metaphor to the exclusion of others is that it can lead to the
potentially unnecessary development of complex Machiavellian strategies, with an
assumption that in any organizational endeavour, there are always winners and
losers. This can turn organizational life into a political war zone.
See Pfeiffer’s book, Managing with Power: Politics and
influence in organizations (1992) to explore this metaphor