The perception of organizations as political entities is based on the idea that corporations are not rational actors, but instead collections of disparate individuals with conflicting interests.
This concept reflects the political frame for viewing the world developed by Bolman and Deal (National Defense University). Many organizations will be impacted by the political movements in their midst that will seriously affect organizational decision-making.
Politics in organizations can be understood in the Aristotelian sense, in which “politics stems from a diversity of interests” (Ratzburg, 2000). Within organizations, this means that people are not tabula rasa when they come to the organization; instead, they bring their interests, desires, and needs that can conflict with each other and with the overall goal of the organization.
Inside organizations, people can form interest groups united by a certain interest or want. Among people, there can be enduring differences in these terms that separate them according to “values, preferences, beliefs, information, and perception of reality” (National Defense University). These groups and individuals compete for the allocation of resources that are almost always scarce and insufficient. To achieve a more significant share of these resources, individuals and groups within organizations vie for power, entering different political games. The result of this game should be increased in influence for interested parties.
A real-world example of such political games can be the interactions between members of “a complex coalition consisting of NASA, contractors, Congress, the White House, the military, the media, and even portions of the public” (National Defense University, n.d.). The political competition for influence can be seen as a partial cause of the Challenger disaster that occurred when political forces put pressure on NASA to launch the shuttle without addressing safety needs and keeping cost down. Influential political factors suppressed rational technical concerns.
Political behavior can be defined as “non-rational influence on decision making” (Ratzburg, 2000).
Through influence on political decision-making, people strive to resolve the current diversity of opinions and interests. Politics is correlated with power because by engaging in the political behavior, an individual seeks to accumulate more power, which in turn enables him or her to gain more weight in organizational politics.
Farrell and Peterson propose the three-dimensional classification of power within organizations. The first dimension refers to the location of the activity, measuring whether it occurs within the structure (exemplified by “whistleblowing, lawsuits, leaking information”) or outside its boundaries, translating into “exchange of favors, reprisals, obstructionism, and symbolic protest” (Ratzburg, 2000). The second dimension captures the direction in which the efforts to exert impact are applied. It can be either vertical, directed at subordinates or supervisors, following the chain of command, or lateral, aimed at the construction of interest groups together with peers. Finally, organizational politics can be realized via legitimate or illegitimate methods, the latter being threats, for instance.
Thus, organizations can be perceived through the prism of analyzing their internal politics. In this light, they appear not as unified actors, but instead as more or less chaotic associations driven by the inner conflict of interest of its members. Organisational decision-making is thus heavily impacted by the political games of their members, trying to gain more power and influence in the competition for resources.
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