Wednesday 28 November 2007

Organisational Politics and Dysfunction

What are some of the "organisational realities"
that can disrupt an organisation's personnel and purposes?
Here are some thoughts from Charles Handy (1988):
Understanding Voluntary Organisations:
How to Make Them Function Effectively
1. Volunteer groups are often characterised by ‘well-intentioned ideals, an avoidance of hierarchical structure, and a lack of basic management capacity. Poor management practices in particular can seriously disrupt both virtuous objectives and collegial relationships’ [paraphrase from pp. 8,9].
'Virtuous behaviour by groups, need not be so painful--provided the group is managed properly.'
2. “Group think” is a typical experience, in which a group of people “let their drive for consensus override their good sense when looking at all the options for the future” (p. 62). Only a few solutions are discussed to the exclusion of other solutions, the possible adverse consequences of preferred decisions are ignored, little effort is made to get specialist/outside advice, and there are usually no contingency plans made for failure.
3. With time, “coalitions” interested in their own turf/agendas emerge within organisations [and movements] which can end up harming the overall purpose and contributions of the group. This can lead to infighting and enormous amount of “transaction costs”—the time and energy needed to sort out differences and keep on track.
4. Do not be surprised by the reality of power/control struggles, nor by the political nature of groups/organisations.

“Because power is a forbidden topic in organisations, and particularly in volunteer organisations, there is seldom any proper discussion of two key aspects of organisational life: the place of competition and/or conflict and the role or meaning of democracy in work. If they are talked about at all it is under the heading of organisation politics, and in this context ‘politics’ is assumed to be bad.

Such myopia is misguided. Organisations are communities, societies in their own right. They cannot avoid the questions [concerning power/control] which beset all societies. …To push these issues under the table is not to solve them; to brandish grandiloquent slogans –‘we are all one family’ or conflict has no place’—only outlaws discussion of the topic without adding to an understanding of it. If organisations [such as our mission and member care organisations] are going to be effective social institutions, they need to grapple with these issues, which are not going to disappear as long as human beings live and work together.” (pp. 75-76)

Reflection and Discussion
1. Which of the above four points apply most to your organisational context?
2. Any new thoughts for you about organisational politics?
3. Similar to the impact of the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills Course, there is the need to develop and disseminate something like a Sharpening Your Organisational Skills Course (SYOS). What do you think about this idea?
4. Organisational development topics have been discussed in major member care and human resource gatherings. It is important to continue doing presentations and workshops in this broad area. What types of topics would be most useful?

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