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Posted on: Thursday, 08 October 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Your Political Virginity.

I don't care how lucky you are. I don't care how amazing your work culture is. If you; dear reader; have not taken a few punches of office-politics; at-least once in your life; you haven't learnt enough. 

You think that the bully who made you do all the work in the school project and took all the credit for it; when you were in school; was an asshole?

You have no idea what your first political experience at an organization is going to be like.

You; are still a political virgin.

Days move on and then one seemingly beautiful morning; you find yourself in a hostile political environment of a really-shitty-client-and-his-organization.

That's when it hits you; really hard.

Smack on your face.

It is at this point that you lose it --- your political virginity.

If you survive the blow and find yourself reading this; pat yourself on your back.

You are now a 'manager'; for better or for worse depends on the survival approach you picked.

Survival.

For me; my first exposure to the stupidest form office politics was at a client; where I was stationed for a period of three months. For the purposes of this post; dear reader; this small client of mine comprising of around a fifty odd people; shall be called Multiplitaxion Inc.

Multiplitaxion Inc, had a team of three genuine builders who were not just surviving but thriving and getting things done.

I called them the three musketeers.

Three young programmers who were; what Steve Yegge would refer to as --- done and getting things smart.

Fun loving guys; who were good at what they did.

What I found most amusing when I met this team; however; was that they had not just survived the politically hostile environment at Multiplitaxion Inc; for months; but had actually thrived in it.

When I joined their team; they were under the management-microscope.

The mere act of joining the team meant that I would be under this microscope too.

Management Microscope.

Did you push the release on time or were you late by a day?

Did you follow the organizational process and send an internal daily report to your manager?

Did you remember to spell-check your daily status report?

When you are under a management microscope everything you say or do can and will be used against you.

I can give you a thousand reasons about why you might find yourself under the management microscope; but each one of those thousand reasons eventually boils down to this:

Someone up there in the pecking order of your organization does not like you.

You make them feel insecure.

Our microscope at Multiplitaxion Inc; extended all the way; office timings; documentation; discipline; formal attire; you name it and we were being monitored and criticized for it.

The funniest part however; was that none of these three individuals answered any emails pertaining to random irrelevant criticism.

I on the other hand; had an irresistible itch; of providing equally long-winded responses and explanations.

Before I sent out my responses; however; I asked why they did not; and learnt about 'fouls' and 'goals'.

Fouls And Goals.

One of them pointed at a recent email which complained about how we didn't spell-check our status report; smiled and said - 'This right here; is a foul'.

Like all good things; the idea was stupid simple.

Every random criticism being thrown at the team was referred to as a foul.

If there was one fact everyone in this really small team understood it was this:

You do not win soccer matches by fighting over fouls. You win them by scoring goals.

A week before the project ended; we scored.

As a response to a month old email that complained about an internal status report not being spell-checked; one of the three responded with the latest status repot which showed that we were a week ahead of schedule and were done with the project. The report also mentioned that we had a formal sign-off on User Acceptance Testing from the QA department and the business users.

Then; he signed off the email with the words which were on the the lines of:

"This one is spell-checked. Special thanks to you for your continuous support and encouragement during the course of the project".

During the course of the project there were over scores of emails that none of us responded to.

When the project ended I was glad we did not.

This team; dear reader; did not need a manager to sedate the monkeys - we had survived the stupidity of office politics; and we; dear reader had picked the survival path of scoring instead of haggling over fouls and learning the art of whining.

Would I go back to work for this client again?

Absolutely not.

Something tells me none of us from that team would.

Having said that; what this client of mine, taught me was invaluable.

If you happen to be my manager in future; and if you send me an email; telling me how critical it is to use 'Verdana' font in the internal status report; that only you are going to read; please do not expect a response. You dear; manager; just scored a foul.

I am sorry for not responding but I will try my best to respond when I am done with scoring a goal.

Honest. I will.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.