Hmmm. I am still not sure if this is primarily a difference rooted in how we define politics or if there is something larger here. I agree that politics are a component or an element of an organizations culture, but I do not think that politics are a necessary component and I do not think that politics is a positive component. I totally agree that you can use politics to accomplish positive things, but that does not make politics a positive thing or even a necessary evil. We make choices that allow politics to flourish and drive behavior in our organizations,or we make choices to keep politics in check.
In my opinion, the more politics exist in an organization the less honesty there is. I see organizational politics existing (in the place of honesty) in order to protect the distribution of power in an organization. In most organizations the top-down organizational structure concentrates all power at the top and creates a false ideal of perfection rooted in proximity to the top of the heap. People are right based on who they are (title), rather than on the value of their ideas or decisions or their competency…the degree to which this is true can vary greatly from organization to another. Never a good thing.
For example, there are employees today in your organization that will not question or challenge your decisions because of your title. That may not have anything to do with you or your behaviors, but is likely about the amount and nature of politics that exist in your organization. So, rather than question or challenge you on a decision or an idea that might be really misinformed, employees with better ideas have to find political ways to maneuver you toward the right line of thinking. You may eventually end up with the best outcome, but there has been a real waste of energy and effort…because of politics. Everyone involved (and the organization) would have been better off with honesty and transparency, rather than the political approach.
I think that politics are a naturally occurring phenomenon that emerge from culture, but that does not mean that politics are good or that we should just accept them. The more politics we accept the less we are comfortable with honesty…that is why this issue is so strongly correlated with the leadership in an organization because it is the leaders that decide how much honesty is acceptable. The gaps are filled in with politics.
Organizations that understand and value shared and distributed power, that understand and value innovation and engagement, that are inclusive and truly in partnership with their workforce and the customers also treasure honesty. It is in those organizations that you will find the least amount of politics.