Take Action: Think Politically

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All organizations are political. By understanding and acknowledging the political aspects of the system, you help mobilize others to meet the demand for adaptive work.

Stakeholder Map

Chances are, you’ve already used visualization techniques to analyze organizational systems. One common example is an organizational chart, or org chart for short. These are diagrams that communicate both overall structure and the formal reporting relationships within an organization.

There are different methods and designs for displaying this information, but a common approach is a hierarchical tree diagram. The roles at the top of the tree diagram typically have more authority or power than the roles at the bottom.

Reporting relationships are displayed using solid lines that connect the role above to the roles below. Indirect reporting relationships are shown with a dotted line.

Another technique is the swim-lane diagram. It’s called a swim-lane diagram because each role gets a column, a lane. A multi-step process moves from lane to lane as part of the shared workflow. Technical work often relies on this type of mapping to clarify steps and ownership.

It can be highly complex, requiring contributions from many stakeholders. But what about adaptive work? How do you visualize a web of stakeholders with differing degrees of power and conflicting views? A stakeholder map is a simple yet powerful diagram that helps you gather and analyze key diagnostic information.

We will start by drawing a large circle. It might help to think of this as a dinner table. At the center of the circle, place the adaptive challenge, the work to be done.
It’s like the meal.

Next are the stakeholders or participants. They all get a seat at the table. In a system with five stakeholders, add five circles. Place the circles around the work, but within the large circle. Feel free to label each circle to indicate the stakeholder represented.

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Now we add the constituencies. These are the groups represented by the stakeholders. Place constituencies outside the circle, but adjacent to the related stakeholder.

Once you’ve added your constituencies, it’s time to identify the factions. Draw an oval or curved line around each stakeholder and related constituencies to create a affection grouping. Don’t worry if some of your factions don’t show all constituencies. Arranging these groups graphically around the adaptive challenge will help you understand the perspectives of each stakeholder and faction.

Drawing a stakeholder map is an iterative process. The more you work on it, the more helpful it becomes.

  • How does each group view the work to be done?
  • What are the values of each faction?
  • What are their potential losses?
  • What are their loyalties?

Now that you have your map, you’re ready to explore these critical diagnostic questions.

As you iterate on your map, it will include the work to be done at the center, the stakeholders, and the constituents/perspective of the stakeholders.

As you iterate on your map, it will include the work to be done at the center, the stakeholders, and the constituents/perspective of the stakeholders.
Harvard Business Review Press, 2009), p. 95.

The more you work on it, the more value you will find (it is a lens for learning about your problem).

Your understanding of the work to be done will change. The relevant stakeholders and their perspectives will change.

This is a living document. Keep drawing and you will see new perspectives and options.

Your map should consider:

  • Work to be done
  • Key stakeholders
  • Pressures and people that exert influence over each stakeholder

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