I’ve been fortunate to work at many different types of companies: a mom-and-pop business, a start-up, a mid-size company, a Fortune 500 company, and also my own small business. Regardless of where I worked, one constant remained the same—you must play office politics to succeed.

Office politics is such a dirty term you say? You may think no way not for me, I’m above that tomfoolery stuff. The reality is you’ll have to start playing at some point because everyone is playing this game whether they know it or not.

And if you think about it long enough, playing office politics is just like any other game. Matter of fact, it’s sort of like basketball. There is a general manager (your boss’ boss), a coach (your boss), players (you and your co-workers), and even bench warmers (those who think they are above the game and don’t get to play because they suck).

And with that, let’s go over some of the fundamentals of office politics. Grab your mouth piece, lace em up and get ready for the jump ball.

The Fundamentals of Office Politics

Get to know your teammates.
You don’t have to be BFF or go on camping trips with them, but do try to show genuine interest in finding out more about each of them. Everyone is interesting if you care enough to ask the right questions.

Don’t be a ball hog; learn how to pass.
If you’re working on a project that required a team effort and you did a great job, don’t hog the spotlight. Winning at office politics means spreading the credit around and being a good team player.

Help your teammates up after a drive to the hoop.
If you see a co-worker struggling or know that Dennis in finance could use an extra hand with his TPS reports, don’t be a jerkstick—help them out.

Crash the boards.
Another fundamental of office politics is crashing the boards. Second chance opportunities always seem to present themselves if you know where to find them. If your boss or co-workers have to miss a meeting, offer to jump right in and take their place.

Keep your hands up at all times.
Don’t be afraid to take on unpopular projects that no one wants. If you volunteer for a challenging project and succeed, you will look 10x more like an all-star. If you fail don’t worry, no one thought it was possible anyways and will chalk it up as inexperience.

Scout out your competition.
Don’t think for a second that you don’t have competitors amongst you. These workers can be above you, below you, but more often than not they are working right beside you fighting for that same promotion. This is what office politics is all about. $5 says they already know you actually really suck at Excel or your PowerPoint skills are not what they should be. It’s a good idea to have a firm grasp on their strengths and weaknesses as well.

Make your free throws.
This is a no-brainer. You know that daily 30 minute meeting that everyone hates to go to because it seems to drag on forever? These meetings are like free throws. They might look ordinary, but they are the single most important part of the day. Not only are you usually in a room with the people who have the most influence over your next promotion, but you are being judged on this stage everyday. Do yourself a favor, be prepared for these meetings because playing office politics demands it. Even if you don’t have much to say, always be prepared to say something. If you miss your shot, you can be assured your competition is waiting to pick up that rebound.
How to Win at Office Politics (Hint: It’s Like Basketball)
Seek out a veteran to mentor you.
The easiest way to know the road ahead is to ask those coming back. If you take anything from this office politics article, this would be it. Realize that everything you are about to do on the job has pretty much been done before. Yes, you may be smart with a college degree and all, but to them you’re really not that special (yet). Seek out a well respected veteran in the organization to help mentor you. It’s easy to find these people, they usually have the letters VP written on the outside of their offices.

Don’t turn the ball over.
One of the most overlooked fundamentals of office politics is to not turn the ball over. When given a special project by the boss or the boss’ boss, take this as a sign of trust that you are progressing. Stay late, check your work, and seek advice from your teammates and mentors. But whatever you do, don’t drop the ball or you might not get another chance for a while.

Play hard for all 4 Quarters—even in garbage time.
Don’t let others ever see you goofing off or taking it easy. If the boss is out of the office, this is actually the time you should commit to working harder. Don’t take advantage of the situation by taking a longer lunch or slacking off on assignments. Others in the office are keenly aware of your performance while the boss is away. Don’t give them any reason to throw you under the bus.

Be a floor general.
It’s never about who is in charge, but who takes charge. You don’t have to be team captain to be a leader. Winning at office politics is really about watching how you carry yourself. Take ownership of your mistakes and never blame anyone.

Act like you’ve been there before.
It’s always nice when you get recognized in the office place. The key is to act like you’ve been there before. Don’t stack up the awards on the front of your desk like trophies. Bring them home and leave them there. Besides you’re not resting on your laurels and past accomplishments, you have bigger dreams.

Do post game interviews.
Control your story before others do. Ask others what they think of your performance and what they think you can improve on. This is easy to do around review time since everyone is worried about their own situation. If you’re not happy with the current PR you’re receiving, then someone else is controlling your story. Take steps to fix it and get the story straight. If you want to be known as the tireless worker who is first in and last to leave, then act like it.

Shake hands at the end of the game.
Even if you leave a company on bad terms, don’t burn any bridges with anyone. The odds are very high that you will see some of these people down the road again in your career at some point.

Winning at office politics is just like playing basketball. As with any game, it takes practice and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. I truly hope this article was of value to you. Thanks.

photography by wili_hybrid


17 Responses to “How to Win at Office Politics (Hint: It’s Like Basketball)”

  1. kram on March 4th, 2008 12:50 pm

    dont be a ball hog. i totally agree with that one. sharing the spotlight, and sometimes give more credit to your team members for a job well done, even though you know you did the brunt of the work, only equals good karma.

  2. ugly on March 4th, 2008 1:00 pm

    Screw TPS Reports. I’d rather be fishing. Great read!

  3. mira on March 4th, 2008 1:56 pm

    Great suggestions. Also, taking in negative feedbacks from haters in the office, but replying back diplomatically also helps. Makes you look like you can be anybody’s friend there.

  4. reegsta on March 4th, 2008 6:08 pm

    how about no flopping either? just straight up defense as there are no shortcuts.

    i hate floppers.

  5. David Carmona (pixellite.com) on March 5th, 2008 4:39 pm

    i need an article of how to leave a company on good terms….

    this has been one of the most successful articles i’ve read yet,..i just wish there was a better photo.

  6. jayleck on March 6th, 2008 3:36 pm

    Where I’m from, people don’t play basketball. But I still get the point.

  7. Deenation on March 7th, 2008 5:13 am

    Hi there, love the baseball analogy and very appropriate at most offices, just not at law firms. You’d have to use wrestling to demonstrate how to not even win but just to survive there.

  8. Buck on March 9th, 2008 8:27 pm

    That’s actually pretty good advice. I should print it out and hang it on the wall in my office. Being newly responsible for all kinds of things and a whole group of people I would be wise to learn these things sooner than later.

  9. bluestrawberry on March 10th, 2008 11:53 am

    I agree with this post on most things. Office politics is something you have to get used to. In the agency world it’s even more cut throat. I got junior account executives jockeying for position. They don’t think I see them trying to cut me down, but I do. I think the best thing to do is let them know that you’re not going anywhere and to just try to always be on top of your game. And at the same time I’m aiming for the next rung so I try not to get too distracted.

  10. fckr@cnn.com on March 14th, 2008 1:27 am

    Make sure a hard foul counts!!!

  11. deanimate on March 24th, 2008 12:54 pm

    friend of mine threw a desk out the window at a place he worked at.
    id probably add that to the list tbh.
    to throw or not to throw you ask? depends

  12. How to Win at Office Politics (Hint: It’s Like Basketball) on April 26th, 2008 12:01 pm

    [...] desconocido wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptOffice politics is such a dirty term you say? You may think no way not for me I’m above that tomfoolery stuff, but the reality is you’ll have to start playing at some point because everyone is playing this game whether they know it or … [...]

  13. Tony on July 26th, 2008 5:50 pm

    Very well said. I stumbled across this blog last week and love it. Also love basketball – like REALLY love it – and whole heartedly agree that it’s a metaphor for life. Only thing add too your article on office politics is work on your game – your free throws, your mid-range jumper, hit the gym i.e. upgrade your finance skills, read up on industry articles, understand the company’s strategy and where it’s headed,… be a factor in the game rather than a role player.

  14. stergeron on July 27th, 2008 2:14 pm

    @ Tony – Thanks for finding us and yes, I love basketball as well. I am not too happy about Baron Davis leaving the Warriors, but still excited about the upcoming season. I also agree that guys should always work on their office politics game. These are the little things that make a huge difference over time and ultimately will help you get the next promotion.

  15. Anonymous on October 16th, 2008 11:11 pm

    How to Win at Office Politics…

    How to Win at Office Politics…

  16. Yoav on January 8th, 2010 3:50 pm

    the section of “Help your teammates up after a drive to the hoop”.i total agree.its necessary to help both new and old employees.that s the way to get to respect you more and the fast way to promote yourself.

  17. The Ultimate Office Etiquette Guide | Just A Guy Thing on March 12th, 2010 11:49 am

    [...] Office politics is unavoidable. Don’t let people undermine you or draw you into arguments. Let your achievements do the talking for you and make sure that the right people are aware of what you have accomplished without you needing to brag about it. [...]

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