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Organizational Politics & Decisions

Organizational theorist, management consultant and distinguished research professor at York University, Gareth Morgan uses eight metaphors as organizations in his book "Images of Organization". When addressing the metaphors used by Gareth Morgan, such as that organizations are political systems, the elements of the metaphor must be further broken down to be fully understood. In this context, the metaphor demonstrates the organization’s patterns of competing interests, conflict and power. Decisions made by the organization and the effects of those decisions throughout the organization follow suite, as the impact of politics works both up and down the ladder.

Almost any decision within an organization has the potential to be directly impacted by political actions or agendas from those inside of the organization (Kacmar, & Baron, 1999). When this is the case, the best and most coherent decisions are not always made in regard to the betterment of the organization. Such decisions tend to be made for personal gain. This can be especially true in light of the fact that most current management theories focus on the value of outcomes rather than on the value of the means chosen. Because of this, the opportunity for personal gain in the interim is greater.

Organization Politics

Organizational politics must be understood. Each and every organization is subject to organizational politics. Not only politics, but also experiences conflict and competition in regard to specific desires and interests of and within each department inside of the organization. This also extends to both teams and individuals within each department. Morgan seems to suggest that because of this fact, such groups or people need to be better "managed" or controlled. However, this may hold different context between different organizations. It may mean controlling or better managing decisions, or in some cases and organizations, the ultimate micro-management of the workers. The intention however, is the same and the results are varied.

Organizational politics refers to the method, tactic, or process that each person or department must utilize to better navigate rival interests within the organization before actual reconciliation is realized. These methods or tactics are not always rational and are often subject to compromise or a complete yielding of organizational principle due to a more powerful or influential interest. Such yielding can hinder organizational goals and such influences must be recognized and dealt with by the organization’s leadership in an effort to minimize the negative effects.

At the same time however, each team and individual member are cooperating to achieve an overall organizational goal, so it is vital that the leadership not impede the progress being made by the individuals or the groups. This merely adds to the complexity of circumstance within the organization as each competing interest, conflict and individual or collective power, hinders yet helps the overall process in regard to the decisions and dispensing of the results of those decisions. This is again, compounded by the involvement of leadership.

Within some organizations, there are workers who think more about themselves than they do the goals of the organization. Sometimes, these workers will join together into small groups and are sometimes inattentive, perhaps even destructive, to the needs of others or the organization itself (Cropanzano, Howes, Grandey, & Toth, 1997). These individuals and groups navigate towards personal or group goals and rewards instead of toward department or even organizational goals. This tends to make operations and decisions made within the organization more stressful, volatile and less predictable.

Due in great part to the unpredictable and sometime destructive nature of organizational politics, a systematic decision making model must be adopted by the organization in order to leverage the irrational models being utilized by those who engage in the political process. The organization must then mitigate the potential damage caused by the actions of those who act upon irrational decisions for personal gain. This is often much easier said than done.

Organizational Decision Making

Organizations that continue to utilize an outdated or broken model for decision making hinder any real or substantial potential for productivity, strategic advancement, or even overall organizational performance in numerous ways (McDowell & Radin, 2011). The organization must adapt to rapid and often unpredictable change if they seek to survive (Wangemann, 2007). This requires adaptive and rapid decisions in the face of such change.

If the organization is unable to make decisions that are both strategic and productive in the face of these type of changes, the organization may find themselves without a competitive advantage moving forward. Examples of this include delays in regard to a product or service launch or even with an exceptional worker who feels marginalized and quits. In response, such slow or poor decisions can have a massive and overall damaging effect on the organization itself. This is especially true when one factors in the idea of tribal knowledge inside the organization and the loss of such information upon departure of said worker, or the unwillingness to share information due to political posturing. Perhaps this is where Knowledge Management (KM) comes in.

Effective, clearly defined decision models can drive efficiency and accountability while empowering individuals to make the right decisions at the right time (McDowell). In order to achieve this level of effectiveness, and in light of organizational politics, the decision model utilized should encompass, or at least consider, components such as cooperation, negotiation and conflict resolution. This is aided of course by a well established organizational learning model that empowers the worker.

An organization must have a way of identifying the problems they face. Having an effective collaboration model will aid greatly in this regard. This is also where cooperation plays a major role because each department and the people who comprise these departments must not feel as though they are being marginalized in regard to their role and the issues being faced. Open discussion without fear of retaliation is key.

This is especially true if you want REAL feedback and when we consider the operational decision model. This model allows the individuals or groups to have a stronger say in what is happening. Their input is more valuable if their organizational education is up to par. While often smaller in scope, these decisions can and often do present a strategic advantage for the organization because the decisions that are being made are operationally relevant. Examples of this include the selection of a particular mail carrier or delivery service that better fits the needs of the customer, which may very well translate into repeat business.

Such liberties should not go unchecked however, because there may be information that was unknown or simply not available during the initial decision process. In the example provided, it may be that the organization has achieved a lower rate, or special privilege through a national carrier or account. Perhaps this information was not known when the decision was initially made. Making such adjustments would ultimately make better sense in the long term for the organization. It is true that many long term organizational policies may be derived from these short term decisions, but this is why evaluation and feedback on such decisions is crucial if the organization seeks to maximize the effectiveness of the decisions being made moving forward.

Allowing for such feedback and correction via leadership, helps to reduce the opportunity for political gain if the decision itself is unwise for the organization. Of course, it helps to reward strategic decisions being made that are beneficial to the organization, even if they are being made for political reasons. In other words, it will classically condition workers who make decisions for political reasons, to make such decisions that are only beneficial for the organization.

Decisions ultimately need to be evaluated by someone in the organization who is well informed about the organization’s strategic goals. Those who were pivotal in the initial decision must also be involved. During this phase, elements such as cooperation, negotiation and conflict resolution can be utilized to their fullest potential.


The metaphor that organizations are political systems used by Gareth Morgan is rather accurate. By breaking down the elements of the metaphor, it becomes easy to see the organization’s patterns of competing interests, conflict and power. It is also easy to see how the decisions that are being made, as well as the results of that decision, tend to be subject to the very same factors.

It is important that the decisions being made within the organization are based off of a sound model that includes proper identification of the problem, cooperation, negotiation, evaluation and feedback between those making the decisions and those who are impacted by them. Such models will help mitigate the potential consequences of political ambition within the organization and help to leverage their impact.

Cropanzano, R., Howes, J. C., Grandey, A. A. & Toth, P. (1997), The relationship of organizational politics and support to work behaviors, attitudes, and stress. J. Organiz. Behav., 18: 159–180. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1379(199703)18:2<159::AID-JOB795>3.0.CO;2-D
Kacmar, K. M., & Baron, R. A. (1999). ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS: THE STATE OF THE FIELD, LINKS TO RELATED PROCESSES, AND AN AGENDA FOR FUTURE RESEARCH. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 17, 1.
McDowell, T., & Radin, J. (2011). It's Your Decision. Retrieved from
Wangemann, M. A. P. (2007). Decision-making in an organizational learning context. (Order No. 3260165, The George Washington University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 156-n/a. Retrieved from (304875099).

David Robertson

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