Power dynamics in the workplace and how to harness them for good - Dignify
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Power dynamics in the workplace and how to harness them for good

Wednesday, June 26, 2024 - Dignify

Power dynamics – for better or for worse, they are a natural part of human interaction, especially in structured groups and organizations like businesses. The term “power” refers to the ability to influence other people to bring about a certain desired outcome. The term “power dynamics” refers to how power is used, felt, distributed, and understood within a group of people. Contrary to an emotion, which is internally experienced by a single person, power is something that can only exist between two or more people – it’s relative. The dynamics of power within a relationship or within a group of people depend on a variety of factors.

When it comes to the workplace, power dynamics are naturally at play all the time, within teams, within departments, and within the structure of an organization at large. Although everybody within a team does have their own element of power, it’s usually the leader of any given team that wields the most power within the dynamic. Assuming that the leader has done what they need to do to build up trust, confidence, and buy-in from their team, they have earned power in their team in a variety of ways.

Power can be expressed in many different forms, including, but not limited to:

  • Formal power (the authority given by an organization)
  • Reward and coercive power (the ability to reward or punish someone respectively)
  • Referent power (power resulting from the buildup of respect and trust)
  • Informational power (power resulting from the access to and control of the distribution of information)

Depending on how power is harnessed and expressed, it can have a very positive or very negative effect on a team. It’s important for everyone, especially leaders, to understand power and the reality of power dynamics so that they can influence their team in the most positive way possible. Power dynamics affect team dynamics – the two are inherently linked. Indeed provides some examples, including:

  • Company culture

Power dynamics affect company culture strongly. Because leaders are in a position of authority and able to set the standard for what they are looking for, people tend to follow the model that their leaders demonstrate, consciously or subconsciously. As such every action that you take and every word that you speak as a leader to your team plays a part in shaping the culture around you.

  • Communication

The levels of comfort that people have in speaking with one another are massively affected by power dynamics. People are most comfortable sharing their thoughts with people that they perceive to have an equal amount of power within the team as them. So, for example, leaders might withhold information and communication from their team, but be an open book with a peer, or a team member may be an open book with another member, but not share the same with their leader.

Power dynamics really aren’t always bad thing. They also aren’t necessarily always a good thing. They are simply a reality of human interaction that, when handled properly, can be harnessed to bring about a lot of good. However, when they’re handled improperly, they can have a severely negative impact. So, what can you do to ensure you’re doing it right?

1. Acknowledge the existence of power dynamics

You’re already on the right path here – you need to understand that power dynamics exist within your team, understand what they are, and be cognizant of them in your interactions.

2. Understand your place within the dynamic

As a leader, it’s likely that you have a unique position in the power dynamics of your team. Barring outlier situations, you likely hold the most power and influence in deciding what happens, how it happens, and when it happens within your team.

3. Set the standard through actions and words

With your place in the power dynamic, you have a responsibility to model the behavior you want to see and shape the dynamics in a way that work for everyone in your team. Want your people to communicate with you and their peers openly? Lead by example – get a bit vulnerable. Want your people to treat each other with dignity and respect? Give them credit for who they are and be there when they need you.

Power dynamics are an inevitable aspect of human interaction within organizations, influencing everything from company culture to communication. Leaders, who often wield the most power, play a critical role in shaping these dynamics. By acknowledging the existence of power dynamics, understanding their own place within them, and modeling desired behaviors, leaders can harness power to create a positive and productive team environment. Properly managed, power dynamics can enhance team cohesion and performance; mishandled, they can lead to discord and inefficiency. Therefore, a keen awareness and strategic approach to power can significantly benefit both individuals and the organization as a whole.

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