Protecting one’s turf is normal. At the workplace, your turf is the area or sphere of activity regarded as your personal territory. While you may think that this is pre-defined by your job, know that your job description will never protect your territory for you.
If you do not play it right, you will end up with no turf or no job. Protecting your territory is critical for your survival and the efficient way to do it is by enhancing trust and relationships as against expending energy in building bureaucracies or fighting turf battles.
Why turf wars happen
Does protecting your turf take away a large part of your time and energy? If yes, then you are too focused on your survival to do any meaningful work, or to grow your career. To get out of it, first understand why it is so. Turf battles are an outcome of hidden interests and agendas. These usually start from a pressure to outperform but with limited means. Once such battles start, control of resources becomes more important than the actual outcome. In many cases, battles begin from outsized egos and a need to survive. In every case, know that turf battles force you to compete internally instead of collaborating with each other and winning the real game.
How serious is it?
Understand how serious the political game at work is. If your workplace appears free from politics, maybe you are unaware of what is going on. However, if conflicts are low, beware of lack of ownership and creativity or lack of discussions going into important decisions. On the other extreme, if conflicts take away all your time, then you are in a highly negative space where there is no energy left for performance and growth. If you are lucky to be in the middle zone, watch out for individual situations where there is either no healthy debate or too much energy expended in conflicts.
Your best strategy towards guarding your turf is to have an army of worthy troops or customers who will do everything to protect you. Like Apple has its loyal diehard customers who are thrilled with its products and services, your customer could be an external client, your boss or your team in case you are a leader. When the people you serve are ecstatic with the service you provide, they will not allow someone to reduce your area of influence and thus affect the service they are receiving.
Legendary investor Warren Buffet talks about building a moat around a business which is a competitive advantage that protects a firm’s pricing power. Your moat is how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the company and thus make yourself invaluable. Are you a key IT resource in your company? Or the only certified cost accountant? Or the keeper of key client accounts and relationships? If yes, then your turf is secure.
Amazon is a powerful marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to transact. Thus, it does not compete with any single seller. The equivalent of this at the workplace is where you become the regulator or arbitrator who enables internal service providers and receivers to transact or have them come to you to resolve disputes. You can achieve this position by dint of your unique expertise or establishing positive relationships across the firm or by becoming a universal enabler across teams.
Market leading technology firms such as Oracle and Salesforce offer free trials to acquire customers and then help businesses customise and integrate their internal software. Thereafter, it becomes extremely expensive for customers to switch. Similarly, add your expertise to multiple projects and teams across the firm. Help them integrate you in every critical project they do. Your turf then becomes battle proof.
Working for an insecure boss, engaged in turf battles, requires a different approach. First understand his real agenda and concerns and then objectively discuss what success means for him and you in tangible terms. Now you can combine your skills with his to achieve common goals. Maintain relationships with people across the firm to guard your own back when opponents try to take him down. Make sure you are always aligned to your firm’s interests and if your boss is going the other way, then seek external help from a mentor or senior manager.
Beware of the dirty game
While you choose the high road to avoid politics to win at work, beware of people who play dirty tricks. Your insecure competitor may create alliances with other people in power to deny you your turf or spread rumours to blame you for a failed project. He may hoard and deny timely information you need to do your tasks or create bureaucracies to slow you down. Finally, he may try and undermine your confidence by unpredictable behaviour, personal attacks or display extreme anger in debates or conflicts. Your best defence continues to lie in building a reputation for delivering outcomes, being trustworthy and having great relationships with multiple stakeholders within and outside.
1. Go for gold
Any military strategist will tell you that defence is not always the best strategy. While other insecure colleagues are busy defending their turfs or leadership positions, you will do well to bypass all the bruising turf battles and to focus on the actual goal of delivering value and extreme performance. It will show up on the podium.
2. Perception game
Once you are seen as someone who gives the correct opinion almost every time, you will win the perception battle and will be insulated from the petty stuff. So, work hard to get your facts right, to bring data to the table when presenting opinions and to incorporate both positives and negatives in your arguments.
3. Art of adult talk
While the other party is throwing a tantrum, banging desks or threatening to walk out, you present the picture of a calm collected adult professional. Learn to write objectively on emails. Choose to talk in person to sort out thorny issues and be rational in your communication.
4. Problem v/s person
Your opponent may get emotional and make personal attacks. While it is natural to feel angry, reacting in a similar fashion does not serve your purpose. You will win more when you keep emotions out of the game and do not share your feelings with everyone. Take accountability for solving the problem and ignore the emotional content.
5. Push back
Speak softly but carry a big stick. When all else fails, be assertive and push back strongly on what is wrong. Your power comes from a willingness to take a stand when required. Giving in to unfairness and abuse only perpetrates bad behaviour. Define your boundaries and escalate matters when you are unable to stop constant sabotage.
(The writer is founder and CEO at Quezx.com and Headhonchos.com)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)