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Analyzing Organisation Through a Political Lens

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LEARNING UNIT  3 . 2:  The political lens[pic 1]

L E A R N I N G U N I T        3.2

The political lens

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The three

lenses of an





design lens



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  1. ORG4801/1


3.2.1        INTRODUCTION

Looking at the organisation through the political lens provides a distinctly different picture from the strategic design model you encountered in the previous learning unit. The focus on the strategic design perspective excluded the implications of grouping, linking and alignment relating to the political aspects of the organisation. An incentive system, for example, is not only an incentive system; it is a statement about the political system (Who does the evaluations – a single manager? How many others have inputs?). The political lens sees the strategic design (in which each structure and process in the organisation is aligned with the overall strategy) as impossible to achieve because different individuals and groups in the organisation have different interests that will be served by a different implementation of the strategy, or by different definitions of it, or even by a different strategy. Indeed, the political lens presents the strategy itself as the outcome of a political contest between different subunits and powerful individuals, in which the losers of the contest bide their time and try to engineer a revision of the strategy to suit their interests.


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The purpose of this learning unit is to emphasise that power and politics in organisations are inevitable – and indeed valuable – aspects of organisational action, and that an individual’s ability to mobilise interests and power to get things done in an organisation is a key element of personal effectiveness. The learning unit addresses the following questions:

  • What are the basic concepts of the political lens on organisations?

  • Which analytical concepts and tools can one use to become more effective in one’s organisation?


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Ancona et al (2009:M2–33–M2–46)


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Ancona et al (2009:M2–47–M2–55)

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AC TIVIT Y 3. 2.1

  1. Think about your own working environment. Who are the most pow-erful individuals and groups there, and why?

  1. Who are the individuals or groups with the strongest influence, and why? What are the key indicators of their influence?
  1. Write notes on the following topic: Why is political action necessary in organisations? What is effective political action?

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LEARNING UNIT  3 . 2:  The political lens


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The following points are important to understand the political lens.

  • Although political and power are words that often have a negative meaning in today’s organisations, the most effective actions in organisations are political. In other words, all effective action requires mobilising support and finding people who have the resources you need to provide them.

  • Mobilising support requires an understanding of interests and power.
  • Mobilising support also requires knowing how to use that understanding to achieve the desired outcomes.

When you think of a powerful person with whom you have interacted in the past, is it a boss for whom you have worked? What made him or her powerful? It could be scarce and valued expertise, a good record of accomplishment, the person’s formal position in the hierarchy of the organisation, the person’s informal network position or informal social networks.

Explore the reasons for why you regarded the person as powerful (how did you know he or she had power), and whether the example chosen had a positive or negative effect on the organisation. Powerful people can exercise their power to keep things from being done as well as to get things done. Perhaps you selected someone who you believe used his or her power negatively instead of positively.

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The political lens views the organisation as a political arena in which individuals, groups and subunits with different interests compete with each other over many kinds of scarce resources. Power determines the outcome of these contests. Two concepts – interests and power – underpin the political perspective. An organisation, according to this perspective, is a “contested terrain”, where having anything accomplished requires effective political action.

The class note (Ancona et al 2009:M2–33–M2–45) provides an overview of interests and power at two levels of analysis: individual and collective/ organisational. Each individual has an array of interests, as does each subunit and group. Some individual interests are personal, such as career aspirations, a high degree of autonomy or a strong desire for status. Other interests are collective and shared by others in similar positions.


  • Interests are the things people want (what is at stake?).

  • The fundamental assumption is that people act rationally to serve their own interests.
  • The political lens acknowledges the importance of individual interests, but broadens the scope to include a variety of interests that are difficult to reduce to economic terms.
  • Collective interests are those shared by others who belong to the same group or category, and centre on the welfare and maintenance of the group.

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  1. ORG4801/1


–  Bases for collective interests



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