Organizational physics exist in the same way that physical laws, like gravity, exist. Because we understand physical laws of the universe, we accomplish remarkable things that would otherwise remain impossible.
The laws of organizational physics are reliable. They allow us to predict what will and won’t happen in a variety of situations. Understanding these laws will help you succeed in the workplace. Not knowing them will help you fail.
Organizational Physics Law 1: Politics
Where there’s people, there’s politics.
Part A. We complain about organizational politics.
Part B. We wish they didn’t exist.
Part C. We see ourselves as subject to, not creators of, the politics
Part D: We’re wrong about Part C
Harry, Tom and Angela lead different business units. They align with each other to advance a shared agenda. I decide to use a few chits in my political bank account to support them, even though more work will flow to my organization. I do this because I want their support for a change initiative I’m introducing in the next few months.
Organizational politics are the currency for getting stuff done. Learning how to grow and use this currency wisely, is your best bet. Playing Office Politics without Selling Your Soul is a good place to start.
Organizational Physics Law 2: Decision making power
People with the power to make the decisions, make the decisions. Law two implies pausing before you send out a war cry against someone who has the power to act for, or against, you.
I would have benefited from knowing this law before going up the chain about my boss. She was taking credit for, and taking over, a successful program I developed, as it gained visibility. I was outraged and went to her boss. He listened and took action. I won the battle and remained in charge of the program. Six months later I lost the war. The company was in a forced layoff situation. Guess who’s name my boss pulled out of the hat?
Organizational Physics Law 3: Boundary conflicts
Conflicts occur where ever you draw organizational boundaries. Each boundary marks:
- Who’s in the tribe and who’s not
- Competition for resources
- Common goals versus conflicting goals
We create bridging roles, sometimes entire organizations, to resolve these boundary conflicts, Knowing law 3, and whether we’re in a bridging role, allows us to adopt healthy attitudes about boundary conflicts.
- Don’t take them personally, either about yourself or others involved
- They’re bound to occur
- The organizations and people involved are often resolving conflicting needs that exist for the company as a whole
Samantha leads an account team at ZED Inc. It’s a bridge organization between sales and marketing. The team focuses on a global account with ten times more potential revenue than any other customer.
Marketing people on the team are measured and awarded bonuses based on revenue. Sales, on the other hand, measures and awards bonuses based on the number of parts sold. These goals compete with each other. Marketing succeeds when high sales prices increase revenues. Sales wins when low prices sell more parts.
Finding the right balance between prices and volumes is a company wide issue. Resolving this issue, falls to Samantha’s organization. Knowing it will come up and it’s not personal, allows Samantha to remain cool headed as she navigates the battlefield.
Organizational physics consists of additional laws. I’ve considered writing a book to guide people through these naturally occurring phenomenon of organizational life. Reading your contributions might light my book-writing fire. I welcome you to be that spark by commenting on laws you’ve observed.