Gaining Office Allies in the Right Places

When you first start at a new job, the one person you are probably most concerned with is your new boss. You want this person to like you, to help you, to defend you, to overlook your mistakes, and to applaud your successes. And this makes sense because your boss is always around and has the most control over your immediate future.

But while managing that very important relationship, it is equally important to pay attention to certain other people in your office as well. These other people can carry you to success or bury you before you even get started.

Admin Folks

The first group of people you absolutely should make friends with are the administrative assistants, and there are so many reasons for this.

  1. They control the schedules and calendars.
  2. They control access to senior personnel.
  3. They have probably been at the company longer than anyone else.
  4. They know the executives’ personalities.
  5. They can tell you when to pester the executives with your bright idea, and when to steer clear!
  6. They can find long-lost files and forms.
  7. They can save you from a bad situation…if they like you.

An assistant who is willing to find five minutes on the executive’s calendar for you at just the right time of day can make or break your career at that company.

IT Folks

Your IT team probably consists of some very cool characters holed up in a noisy, window-less room in the heart of your office suite, and these folks can make your life better (or worse) with the flick of a switch. Typically, it takes the IT team almost no time or effort to help you out. Most of their time is spent fixing major server issues, so anything you need is small beans by comparison.

Sooner or later, you are going to want (or need) some expensive software, or a faster laptop, or a second monitor, or access to a restricted server. At this point, you can either submit a formal request to the department, or just ask your buddy if they wouldn’t mind pressing that button over there. Which sounds faster to you?

As someone who worked in IT once upon a time, I assure can you that there is a huge difference between helping a cubicle jockey who is polite (or even flirtatious) versus helping someone who is complaining about how you are interrupting their day to fix their computer.

Money Folks

This group includes accountants, controllers, contracting officers, and anything similar your company has. Unlike the Admins and IT, you probably will never need to ask the Money people for help. Instead, hang out with them from time to time and just listen.

Your financial officers are literally watching the life-blood of the company: Revenue, expenses, salaries, etc. These are the people who can tell you whether the company is doing well, or whether you should be touching up your resume.

Financial officers are usually very reserved about the company ledgers and are not going to tell you anything remotely specific, but watch their moods. A permanently annoyed controller is rarely a good sign.

HR Folks

At some companies, the conventional wisdom says that the Human Resources team exists to protect the company from the employees, and not to help the employees with…well, anything. And unfortunately, in some companies this is true. An HR team might be confronted with all manners of staff complaints and conflicts on top of the complex tasks of managing the hiring, firing, and insurance-related paperwork for hundreds or thousands of people. And the HR team’s first goal is usually to make those conflicts go away as quietly and painlessly as possible.

However, eventually you are going to have a problem, perhaps with your boss, perhaps with a coworker, or perhaps you will be concerned for the well-being of a friend in the office. At this moment of personal crisis, you will appreciate having a genuinely sympathetic ear in HR, and not just someone trying to make you go away.

HR is a lot like insurance. You don’t need it until you need it, and then you really need it. And you might find this especially important when you have a family at home.

Old Folks

Hmm. That’s not a very politically correct header, is it? Let’s try…

Extremely Experienced Folks

There is a very important difference between knowledge and power in an office. By default, only a small number of people can be executives who rule over you with an iron fist. But there are probably quite a few other people in your office with just as much experience in the industry or company (if not more!).

When you have a minute, wander around your suite. If you are very lucky, you will discover a grumpy old man in a messy little office at the end of a poorly lit hall where no one goes. This grumpy old mans knows everything. He has been at the company for fifty years and he is always just a year or two away from retirement, and he works primarily to have a reason to get out of the house.

Talk to this sagely curmudgeon. I promise you, he knows things that you need to know. He knows about people and events that shaped your company’s current business, he knows why your boss was almost fired ten years ago, and odds are he has a wicked sense of humor.

My favorite office sage had a story about everyone in the company, and most of the clients too. He swore frequently and was willing to talk to anyone who would listen. I learned more about managing the people in my company from him than from anyone else.

Office Enemies

You cannot afford to have office enemies, it is as simple as that. This is not school where everyone works in their own little universe with their own grades and consequences, and you can always look forward to the end of the year when classes end and your enemies will go away.

No more. Work is not school. There is no end, and you are not an island. You are here and you need to get along with everyone around you.

But you’ve got an office bully? A sexist jerk? A lazy bum? A loud-mouthed liar? Too bad for them. Document any and all infractions and report them to your boss or HR.

Make friends, rely on them when you need them, and defend them when they need you. If anyone doesn’t fit into that model, make it crystal clear to the powers-that-be where the problem is.

Because that’s what friends do.

Joseph Lewis is a writer and editor who has worked in the public and private sectors, including military, health care, and technology firms. Visit Joe's site


  1. jason on the 19th November

    Truer words have never…..
    great post – too much time and energy is wasted in tiny office wars. It’s easier (and more productive/enjoyable) to spend your time making allies.

    I hope i’m not considered the curmudgeon in my office….

  2. maryland mortgage modification on the 19th November

    How hilarious! I just started working in an office three days ago. Definitely see how everyone groups up and hangs out with only certain people. It’s so strange.

    This post was great though. Very true. Thanks for the laugh.

  3. Colin on the 19th November

    I am currently an IT admin, you are right. I am less likely to help someone if they are extremely rude. I usually outright refuse to work with them.

    If my CIO or the Managing Director bother me about it I simply indicate that I have projects A to J on the go, each project hinging on a few thousand dollars, while the employee wants something completely superfluous in comparison.

    Sounds vindictive but the level of stress I deal with daily is way beyond that of any job I’ve ever worked in. I read somewhere (might have been on this site) about prioritization; your top level priorities should be putting out the fires and IT people are essentially full-time firefighters. No matter what the problem is users generally have the “fix it now!” mentality which creates a false sense of urgency, bumping more important tasks down, and destroying any SLA goals.

    On one truly hectic day I used the analogy “They’re like the three stooges and the door. They all try to go through the door at the same time. The three stooges being the department managers, the door frame being the IT department and the action of going through the door being their demands for having their problems resolved immediately.”
    Of course because that analogy needs an explanation it makes it an ineffective analogy but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. 3 idiots getting stuck in a door frame.

    I believe this video is a good supplement to your IT section:

    • Joseph Lewis on the 19th November

      Colin, I completely understand. And I don’t think your analogy needs any explanation, it was perfectly clear to me!

  4. Karsten Rowe on the 20th November

    Great post, interesting read. Especially agree with the last paragrah that refers to ‘Office Enemies’.

  5. Jason Schwartz on the 20th November

    This article is INSANELY true and definitely rings home when it comes to IT folks.

    At every company, IT is ALWAYS taken for granted and people usually only interact with them when something is broken, or they need a favor.

    You definitely need to stay “in” with IT at all times, whether you need something or not.

  6. JL on the 23rd November

    Great post. Should be common sense for everyone, but “just be nice” will take you soooo far with the IT department. I’ve also been saved a few times by the admin staff. You definitely need buddies to make it through some office warfare.

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