Surviving Office Politics

Surviving Office Politics

In this article I will share what I’ve learned about surviving office politics as a developer. Over the years I have found a commonality in the way developers think, which is fundamentally different than non-technical managers. This difference has often perplexed me and I have often wondered exactly what the nature of this difference is.

Us vs. Them

This difference usually manifests itself in the form of developers thinking they are in some way better than management. They believe that if only developers ran the company then things would be so much better. Or from the other side, that developers are somehow taking advantage of their technical knowledge to do less work or in some way gain advantage over management.

During the last 14 years, I have worked in a huge range of different environments from investment banking to charities. It is pretty much the same across the board. People are people regardless of where they work. So the same patterns of decision-making and conflict between developers and management arises wherever you go.

Unfortunately this divide and its manifestation creates disharmony in the team. Consequently, this leads to bad moral and ultimately to developers moving on to other jobs.,

Importantly, the morale of developers and a high turnover of staff have a huge impact on the quality of work delivered. Hence, this plays a vital part in the quest for the perfect web architecture.

A Developer’s Sense of Justice

One of the things that Joe Spolsky attributes to developers is a sense of justice. SOURCE: Joe’s article about what makes developers want to work for a company. Developers tend to have a keen sense of what is right or wrong. They tend to believe that if you can argue it logically and it makes sense it is right. And if it is based upon some sense of ego, or political game playing it is just plain wrong.

I recently found myself in a situation of office politics. After sending out a status update I had a manager email me and my direct boss with a reprimand about not going through him before sending out the email. I had never sent it to him in the past. My role was partly to keep users up to date, so why now, was this a problem? To add salt to the wound he berated me in the next status meeting about it as well. My sense of developer justice had been offended.

On investigation, it was quite obvious what had happened, he felt left out, he was defending his right to exist. In short, he was playing a political game. He made sure his name was still on the work, even though he had not contributed to it in any way. From a developer’s point of view, this was just plain wrong.

From a rational stand point, this kind of thing is trivial. It shouldn’t affect the day to day working and it certainly shouldn’t affect architectural decisions. From a rational stand point.

However, we are not always rational and dealing with injustice is difficult, especially for developers it seems.

Strategies for Surviving Office Politics

So how can a developer, like me, overcome such petty grievances, and not become bogged down in the political minutia of everyday office politics? I am not pretending to be an expert on this. However, having worked in so many different places I feel I can offer some advice on the subject or at least detail how I manage this type of thing.

1. Don’t react

The first and most important element in dealing with conflict is not to react. Always get some space between you and the situation. I find I can do this by talking a walk, phoning a friend or waiting until the next day to respond.

During this time, I often remember the real reason why I go to work. It is not to get caught up in someone else’s petty world, but to earn a living, write some damn good code and if at all possible have a laugh while I’m doing it. Get the space, formulate a strategy and then act.

2. Meditate on it

If space doesn’t help (sometimes it doesn’t) and you find the details of the situation going round and round in your head, then maybe simple meditation or yoga can help. I practice yoga every morning. During this time I feel alive and that the daily life is far far away. Again, it is about putting things into perspective.

3. Share your feelings

Eventually, if I truly feel that I have to act, I usually do a quick check on my finances to make sure I can afford to leave my job. Then I take it up with management. If you need to have a confrontation, then it is best to make sure you are calm and have all the facts. Focus not on what the other person did, but on how you felt about it. No one can argue against your feelings.

4. Keep a sense of perspective

Sometimes, during a particularly bad contract, work at the office seems like a play on a distant stage. At work, it all seems so important. But outside, it seems small and at best a microcosm inside a bubble which I voluntarily take part in each day. The only constant is the continuing development of my coding skills and income in my bank.

5. Rise above it

On a good contract, I am fully engaged have lively technical debates and enjoy the company of all the team members. It is a contractor’s job to take the rough with the smooth and rise above the petty politics of others.

If you find your morale slipping and work starts to get tedious because of office politics, remember that of all jobs in the world, this one is pretty damn cool. And to get paid to be an artist is a rare thing.

Artists are temperamental, but don’t let it spoil the quality of your code.

Skills for Surviving Office Politics

Skilful facilitation and agile coaching skills can offer an escape route from office politics. These skills, along with an agile mindset, support a psychologically safe working environment, where everyone can be heard and conflict is healthy, rather than political.

  • Lead better, more meaningful collaborative conversations resulting in an increased capacity to give and receive feedback with the Agile Team Facilitator (ICP-ATF) Course
  • Equip yourself with the skills to cultivate a safe, supportive and collaborative atmosphere where teams can thrive with the Agile Team Coaching (ICP-ACC) Course

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