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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Office Politics

The self-employed do not have to deal with office politics. Nor, generally, do people who work with only one other person--the practically self-employed. In those situations, generally one person is the acknowledged superior and the other the acknowledged inferior. This is how marriages work. But once a workplace has three or more people, it has become a de facto society. And politics are society's fuel.

And the more members of a society, the more politics there are. This is not a comment on the TYPE of politics (vicious, collegial, etc.), merely on the amount. That is, if we define politics as the "use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc." (http://www.dictionary.com/), then the number of strategies occurring at any given time rises directly (if not exponentially) with the number of people in a given society.

Case in point, the Solipsist has the opportunity to observe politcal interactions firsthand on a day-t0-day basis. The industry is not relevant, merely that it meets our definition of a workplace society. For simplicity's sake, let's just say the Solipsist is intimately familiar with the goings on at a widget factory. In the last hour alone, the following acts of politics occurred:

--At a meeting of the Basic-Widget Department, the head of the division reported that the parent company--Amalgamated Widgets, Cogs, and Gizmos--was demanding a rigorous accounting of the exact times at which each widget's thingamabob was installed on the whatsis. No matter that there had been no major complaints on the finished widgets' performance.

--At this same meeting, the issue was raised that the Deluxe Widget Department was upset at the Basic Widget staff, who were taking it upon themselves to assist in the polishing of Deluxe Widgets. It should go without saying that widget-polishing is a skill that all widget artisans possess, and that a well-polished widget will shine no matter who does the polishing.

--Finally, the heads of the Basic, Deluxe, and International-Standard Widgets Departments are wrestling with the Facilities Manager, who is concerned that each department's widget-manufacturing activities occur at slightly different and not always overlapping times. This creates issues around securing the factory at the end of the day.

When looked at from a global perspective, what is striking is the utter simplicity of the possible solutions. If each widget-making department simply worked on producing widgets, cooperating when necessary, concentrating on achieving the best results when not, then no problems would exist and fine widgets would pour forth consistently. Instead, efficiency suffers because of each individual department's political concerns.

Can anything be done? Yes and no. Man is a political animal. But it helps to remember that politics is always means, never an end.

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