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It takes a good amount of time in any new job to figure out not only the requirements, but also the office politics and dynamics. Until then, new hires must be extremely cautious not to step on anyone’s toes, offend co-workers or take sides without knowing what they are getting themselves into.

Learning more about a new workplace takes observation as well as asking questions. It is your ability to see how co-workers interact, decisions are made, problems resolved and so on to figure out the politics in your surroundings. This observation also can help you sense any tensions or issues there might be between different parties — which should guide you to avoid falling into one camp or another.

A problem often arises when these dynamics and politics are integrated into the workflow. In other words, that is when people know implicitly that things get done quicker, for example, when certain team members are involved. Or that two people won’t collaborate on a particular project.

When that is the case, navigating these relationships and ensuring work is done efficiently can be a complex task in itself, particularly for those who are in leadership positions and are expected to produce immediate results.

If you’re walking into a new position and finding it hard to figure out the office dynamics, here are a few pointers to get you started.

Directions and guidelines

During your orientation and training look at how the work procedures are communicated to you. Are they written and documented or verbal? Do you have references for what needs to be done that appears to apply to everyone involved, or is much of the decision-making up to the individuals?

You probably will get a good idea during this period about who pulls the strings. This person, in many cases, could be your immediate supervisor, or another person who is assigned to guide and lead the team. If that person is consistent and has some well-documented expectations, your transition should be fairly straightforward.

If not, you may find that getting your work done involves a good amount of exploration, asking questions, guessing and filling in the gaps.


Knowing everyone’s decision making limits can help know where to go and whom to ask when a decision is needed. Sometimes the best way to go about who is the decision-maker in a specific situation is to simply ask. But in some cases, it is really unclear, especially with cross-departmental projects that involve many layers of management and teams.

In this case, take a step back and refer to your supervisor or the person who’s training you to pursue the decision-maker — while you shadow that person to know how to go about it next time. Just like any other work procedure, seeing how discussions are being handled, problems are sorted out and arguments evolve can help you understand the tone, pace and power poles in your office.

Feedback and recognition

Pay attention to see who is giving feedback and who is leading the recognition efforts. Regardless of whether feedback is positive or negative, you should be able to find out who is watching, assessing and empowered to deliver this powerful tool of leadership.

Any feedback given on a project also can give you an idea of how individual and team efforts are recognised ... or not. There are many organisations that work with minimal recognition or formal feedback. People can often feel like they are flying blind as they are not sure if their efforts are meeting the expectations or not.

They may be desperate for any sort of direction, but concerned that they attract attention to their performance.

If you’re lucky to witness in your early days a situation where feedback is delivered to someone else, make sure that to discreetly monitor how the situation is handled and how the response is addressed. That doesn’t mean you will have to follow the same formula if you come across the same situation!

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features editor, is a Seattle-based editor.


Getting familiar with office dynamics

See how work is documented.

Know who is making decisions and how.

Monitor ways to resolve arguments.

Know the tone and style of feedback.