Office Politics Sucks. Most Would Probably Agree With This Statement.

Well…sort of. What we really mean is we hate the negative politics: the gossiping, the character assassination, the backstabbing, the subterfuge, the whispered words at the water cooler.

Yet we all engage in positive political behaviour, and successful business leaders are very adept at it.

Politics is the art of creating a coalition to achieve some outcome.

Political behaviour tends to be regarded as a negative aspect in business, but this is not entirely true. Everybody engages in politics. We are constantly checking our views against those of others and soliciting other peoples’ views. This is an integral part of making sure our behaviour fits in with the group and that the group is not going to threaten us in some way. It’s built into our DNA from 10,000 years ago; we like to belong to a tribe and we like the tribe to like us.

We employ (positive) political coalition building in order to get things done. 

Coalition building in the democratic, modern workplace is more important than ever – whether your structured along agile lines, as a self-organizing holacracy or a more traditional alignment.

Political behaviour becomes dark when it is either deliberately, premeditatedly manipulative or coercive, or is done to disrupt either the harmony or process of the tribe/team. Negative politics can be a powerful force in an organization. Negative politics arises when people individually or as a group feel threatened and often manifests itself in attempts to sabotage decisions that have already been taken.

Playing politics is not the same as a genuine concern discussed openly and honestly. Negative politics is corrosive, subversive, seditious and really bad for business.

Negative politics is often driven by fear. Fear of loss of security or status; fear of failure; fear of being rejected by the tribe. But also through stress, lack of understanding, feeling undervalued. Perhaps the most distasteful is the drive to achieve some personal gain at the expense of others.

So it’s important to try to empathise with people who display negative political behaviour – what is their drive and can their concerns be alleviated? Maybe they’re right? There is, of course, always a point where people are either on board or they need to talk to HR about a change of tribe.

Chris Martlew’s new book, Changing the Mind of the Organization – Building Agile Teams, is available for pre-order at,, and other good bookstores.