How to cope with office politics as a data scientist?


Office politics is a phenomenon that exists in every company ranging from SME’s to multinationals. Many describe it as the political landscape of a firm that structures the hierarchy between departments, teams, and individuals. Moreover, office politics is often interpreted as a negative phenomenon and associated with the power game that is constantly at play (Vigoda-Gadot & Drory, 2006). Active practitioners use it to tactically manipulate co-workers to gain individual prestige (Vigoda-Gadot & Drory, 2006). However, in some cases office politics stimulates the efficiency, especially when working on cross-departmental projects because it can strengthen interpersonal relationships that oils the decision-making process. Nevertheless, to avoid the discussion whether office politics has a positive or negative effect, it is important to be aware of the phenomena and to posses the basic skills make advantage of it.

Data scientists are often subject to strong negative office politics because they provide empirical evidence for business problems that are usually approached from a gut-feel and experience perspective (Penn, 2013) Since both approaches are usually not resulting in similar solutions, data scientists get the reputation of disrupting the status quo, hence challenged with heavy resistance (Penn, 2013). Additionally, data scientists are regularly working on projects with a cross-departmental scope, whereof the agenda’s of the departments are not aligned, which again result in strong office politics (Glassman, 2014).

Although ignoring office politics is not an option, using basic tactics to make use of it can be exploited and benefitted. One basic tactic, which is well known and often classified as ‘kiss-ass-behavior’, is to engage with and gain trust from the person in power (Pfeffer, 2011). Consequently, this can function as leverage when running into problems or when having disagreements with the staff (Penn, 2013). Another successful approach, when working on cross-departmental projects, is to fully understand the different agenda’s at play, because this enriches the capability to restate goals in such a way that all parties are respected and collaborate willingly. Additionally, engaging in discussions with co-workers may be necessary but trade-offs are always made (Truter, 2008). Therefore, it is important that data scientists pick their battles cautiously and take into to account the trade-offs at hand (Pfeffer, 2011).

To summarize, data scientists are confronted with strong office politics because of the potential disturbance of the status quo and the cross-departmental nature of their activities. Nevertheless, engaging with the person in power and using it as leverage can minimize office politics. Similarly, by fully understanding the different agenda’s and by carefully considering the discussion to engage in, office politics can be used as an advantage.

My question to the reader: Which other skills can be practiced to positively make use of office politics by data scientists in your opinion?

office-politics-quotes-212

Bibliography

Vigoda-Gadot, E. & Drory, A., 2006. Handbook of Organisational Politics. 1st ed. Massachutts: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Glassman, J., 2014. Workplace Politics Hinder Data Driven Initiatives. [Online] Available at: https://www.umbel.com/blog/big-data/workplace-politics-data-driven-initiatives/ [Accessed 20 September 2015].

Penn, S., 2013. Data Science Central. [Online] Available at: http://www.datasciencecentral.com/profiles/blogs/how-the-data-scientist-should-navigate-office-politics [Accessed 20 September 2015].

Pfeffer, J., 2011. Don’t Dismiss Office Politics – Teach it. Wall Street Journal.

Truter, I., 2008. Power in the Workplace. SA Pharmaceutical Journal, 75(1), pp.50-52, 70.

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