I’ve never watched a complete episode of “Game of Thrones”.
But from what I have been able to piece together there are favorite characters dying on a regular basis, battles of good versus evil, fortunes won and lost, and much scandal and intrigue. Pretty exciting stuff I gather based on the rather passionate following the series has achieved. What could be more fun than a good-old-fashioned power struggle where the winners and losers are sorted out through violence and subterfuge? Fascinating to watch perhaps but few of us would want to really live under those conditions.
Good thing we don’t operate like that anymore. Right?
Well sort of…the rules may have changed but the game is still far too common. Swords have been exchanged for words and courts for organizational charts. We are masters of behind the scenes maneuvering and carefully placed traps. Allies are gathered and battle plans drawn. Carefully placed comments are whispered outside the presence of their subject. Subtle criticisms wrapped in kind-sounding words. Some master sleight of hand; expressing support then withholding it at the critical moment. All in an effort to gain an edge or elevate status.
Despite all the buzz about our new “enlightened” organizations this behavior still plays out far too often in governments, businesses and even religious institutions.
Thrown under the bus.
These modern-day power struggles are a serious detriment to organizational health. Enormous amounts of energy are consumed managing perceptions, protecting territory, building support and jockeying for control. Individuals with no stake in the game are caught up in the struggle and often become the victims. The focus turns inward and while the power struggle is consuming attention the organization falls into dysfunction and even disarray. Communication, trust, productivity and innovation are suffocated. Threats to organizational survival go unseen and unaddressed by those focused on building their small kingdom.
Fear, division and suspicion dominate the power-struggle culture.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the basic social and political skills needed to operate in and navigate complex, hierarchical organizations. No, this rant is about the more self-serving, ego-driven behaviors and battles that can destroy an organization from the inside-out.
You get what you tolerate.
If power-struggle behaviors are tolerated the message to the organization is clear, “to survive or thrive here you must learn to play the game”. Maybe some are attracted to this kind of intrigue but any benefits will be short-lived both for the individual and the organization. The victor soon becomes the victim; the cycle repeats itself until in the end, everyone loses.
How to create a power-struggle vacuum.
- Reward right behaviors. Don’t reward positive results that are achieved through doing harm to others. Make it clear that the end does not justify the means. Let the rest of the organization see that healthy debate, honesty and working for mutual benefit is the path to success. Make sure core values hold serve versus popularity or performance.
- Expose hidden agendas. Create decision-making practices that drive all opinions and data into the open for everyone to consider. When someone makes a cynical or sarcastic comment ask for an explanation. Draw out the messages hiding behind negative body language.
- Keep relational balance. Make sure all voices are heard and be careful about creating an “inner circle” that alienates others on the team. Strive to let the best idea win, not the loudest mouth or biggest title. Seek input from unexpected sources and different areas of the organization. Demonstrate that everyone is important and has value to add.
- Share critical information. Let everyone in on the important stories that matter to the organization’s success. Be open about the reasons behind decisions and honest about why changes are made. Don’t leave a void for others to fill with rumors. Secrets and access to special information are fuel for power struggles.
- Avoid win-lose scenarios. Focus on shared success that rewards individual contribution in the context of the larger organizational goals and values. Competition is a tricky tool for motivation. Use with caution. It can bring out the best and worst in people.
- Create community. Communities are a group of people who take time to know one another and are joined together for a common cause. They fight, disagree and have problems but no matter what happens they look out for each other. There is a sense of caring, loyalty and support that rests underneath whatever is happening on the surface. The belief is that what is good for us is also good for me.
And if I may add a favorite of mine…
Don’t abide the drama queen or king.
These are people who love to stir up power struggles simply for their own entertainment. If someone in the team is a constant source of gossip, conflict or just good old-fashioned drama, your best choice is most likely to help them move on to a place where they can be “happier”.
What has been your experience? What would you add to this list?
As entertaining as the games may be to watch; I think we all know how they end.
Here’s another great read on how power can change leaders from Mike Lehr.
“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”- War Games