A power play is an attempt to gain an advantage by showing that you are more powerful than another person or organization, for example in a business relationship or negotiation.
They is so ingrained into our relationships that we are almost blind when they show up and soon you realise that you the aligned, united team you are trying to achieve is actually stuck in storming and conflict. It is exhausting.
In the most extreme form, power plays look like threats, use of power to shut someone up, exlusion or explulsion. It creates fear and competition within teams, neither of which are healthy. In the most subtle form we call Office Politics, and during lockdown, the escape from office politics came as a relief to many, until it started creeping into our remote working practices.
Now to some degree, jostling for position and influence is inevitable. We are social creatures and want to find our place within the group where we can be most comfortable and thrive. If you want a promotion, or to get your proposal approved, you are going to need to influence and create allies to achieve success. It can actually be a force for good as it encourages everyone to raise their game and keep moving forward rather than stagnating. However, the ugly, negative side of power plays can be harmful to you, your team and organisation. We call it toxic cultures.
when the player is more concerned about their own needs and ego than the success of the teams success.
Types of power play
The excluder. This one is so common and reminds me of school yard tactics because they are so immature. They might simply exclude you from an email, accept but then don't attend your meeting because "something more important came up", or even invite others to a team get together and don't include you. They are trying to let you know that you aren't impoertant and they are. Take it as a complement, because the truth is they feel powerless when you are around.
The blocker. Have you ever worked with someone who seems to intentionally block everything you try to do? They might ignore your emails, refuse to phone you back, delay a piece of work or just poo-poo your ideas. Blocking is a passive aggressive approach, causing you just enough harm to notice, but to little to name without appearing petty yourself. In any case, it is unhelful to the teams succcess.