5.1 Politics and rationality
The original meaning and idea of politics comes from Ancient Athens, where it stood for a means by which society allowed individuals to reconcile their differences through consultation and negotiation. Politics is usually discussed in relation to issues of government; however, in so far as organisations (or enterprises) are comprised of collectives of people, it is possible to view organisations as systems of government, and therefore as political entities.
Recognising organisations as political systems is important because it exposes what has been referred to as ‘the myth of organisational rationality’ – the view that all the members of an organisation are committed to pursuing common goals which are both objective, neutral and rational, that is, value-free. In reality, organisational goals may be rational for some people (e.g. senior management, board of directors) but not for others (e.g. IT personnel). This means that rationality is always interest-based and dependent on the perspective from which it is viewed; in short, rationality is always political. In terms of IT systems, this means that planning, designing and building these processes, the people involved in them and the many activities and mechanisms they promote are by no means neutral as they may initially seem.
Organisational politics tends to go unnoticed as long as the interplay of competing interests within an organisation remains relatively ordered such that there is an absence of visible conflict. This means that when conflict does start to emerge, it appears that it is politics that is the cause of the trouble, whereas in reality politics is merely the mechanism through which power is exercised in pursuit or defence of interests. It is important to appreciate that the structure and culture of many organisations tend to encourage conflict by simultaneously requiring people to compete for resources, status and remuneration and collaborate within and between teams, departments, organisations and even countries.