As I said in the last post, in every office . . . .
All is not as it seems.
In every office, in every university, in every street gang, in places of worship, in organized charities . . . . . there is office politics.
Every human being entering a room brings a soul, an ego, a temperament, a collection of past experiences, values, joys, and fears, etc. Some positive, some negative.
It affects how they interact with other individuals. It affects how they interact in groups of people.
You’ve experienced this already, of course. It exists in every community of people who meet daily to share common values or achieve common aims.
What you may not know is the degree to which it can make a mockery of org charts.
It is quite possible, for example, for a programme manager or integrator to have less real influence than a section head or a project manager. On the surface, one should have more authority and influence than the other, but in practice, because of temperament or personality, the reverse is true.
Just understand that for every org chart you see, there is an unofficial org chart that isn’t written down anywhere, but that everybody has in their heads.
Get familiar with that unofficial org chart. Learn to work with it. It can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.
Here are some of the “unofficial” job functions you will meet:
This first one is actually official as well. Almost every department has at least one secretary, or admin staff. Usually a lady, she sits fairly close to the bottom of the org chart, and is generally not paid that well. (Which perplexes me no end, because good ones are incredibly valuable and hard-working.)
She sees everything that goes on in the office. She hears all the gossip.
She knows all the high-level power-brokers by name.
She knows that they’ll be meeting in the corner room at 2pm. She knows the agenda for the meeting, and has a pretty good idea of what they’re saying before they say it.
She knows who can solve that unique problem that happens to you maybe once every two years.
She knows where the ink cartridges for the photocopier are kept.
She knows the name and phone number for the photocopier repair guy.
She knows who’s about to be fired.
You want to make a friend of this individual.
You definitely do not want to make an enemy of this individual.
Especially if she (or he – sometimes it’s a guy) has a long memory and a short fuse. Because then she will make your life very difficult as long as you are there.
There are also people in the office who don’t occupy positions of high authority, but are nevertheless held in very high respect, be it for their management or people skills, or their superb technical ability.
Just as with the office admin staff, you want to befriend these individuals, or at least avoid alienating them.
Befriend them, and they can open doors for you.
Alienate them, and you might as well have alienated Mother Theresa. Word will spread fast. Your reputation in people’s minds will be tarnished, even if they haven’t met you.
There’s also . . .
The Office Cry-Baby
Someone who, at the drop of a hat, wails loud and long to anyone who will listen, about the latest office development that has upset them.
You, as the Office Newbie, may be tempted to assume that Office Cry-Baby holds a position of influence, and therefore must be assuaged and complied with.
Usually they don’t.
Listen for a while, if that’s what it takes to avoid making a big scene even bigger. And then, in future . . . . . avoid.
The Office Volcano
Someone who is normally peaceful, jovial, easy-going, placid, and very talented technically. And then, every so often . . . . . . KA-BOOM. Without warning, he/she explodes violently, while the rest of the office takes cover.
When that happens, it’s great for office gossip.
However, it can also be a problem, especially if they occupy positions of authority, and you can’t therefore avoid them. People bearing bad news must judge when is the best time to deliver the news, with the inevitable risk that the bad news gets delivered too late.
(I had a colleague who was a gentle, easy-going engineer, well liked. Happiest tapping away at his computer, coding stuff that nobody else understood. Very good at what he did. Introvert. (Of course.)
We were all beavering away one afternoon, minding our own business, when suddenly there was a shout. Binders full of paper went flying in all directions, a computer fell over. My colleague, with several black storm clouds above his head, stomped down the aisle and out the door. It was still early afternoon, but he never reappeared.
We picked up the mess, and piled it as neatly as possible on his desk, and waited for him to reappear next morning.
And reappear he did. Next morning, as if nothing had happened.
That only happened two or three times over several years. We never did find out what had annoyed him.
I bumped into him a while ago, and asked if he’d done any explosions lately. He laughed good-naturedly, and said, No, not in a long time, but one is scheduled for next week, just to keep the skill sharp.)
In the next post, we discover someone related to the Office Volcano, but far more dangerous.