5 Things Leaders Can Do to Stop Office Politics Before it Starts
Is office politics really just a fact of life? According to these business leaders, not at all
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Plenty say that office politics is inevitable, and indeed, it does seem like part and parcel of corporate life. Most people have or will run into some form of office politics at one point in their career.
“In one of my previous companies, politics, instead of healthy competition, affected the team morale and resulted in team fragmentation,” recalls Shawn Lee, business lead of Singapore-based design consultancy Macquarie Design. “Colleagues stopped working together to ensure the progress of the company, and their projects, and instead spent more time and effort trying to ‘outdo’ one another. Productivity was compromised.”
Sadly, Lee’s experience seems to be typical; more often than not, these political games do a lot more harm than good. However, it is possible to prevent these manipulative games. How? Here’s what some business leaders had to say on the matter.
1. Build relationships
Encouraging healthy relationships within the team is a good way to deter negative attitudes. Feeling like you’re part of a team encourages collaboration, instead of pointless competition that is ultimately counterproductive.
“We haven’t had a problem with office politics,” Lee says. “First and foremost, the team is small and we are always in the process of building a community—a ‘family’ outside of home. We spend time with the team and get to know them as individuals, not just employees or colleagues. We are always thinking of ways to include new members and build a stronger bond between team members.”
2. Establish a healthy company culture
One reason why office politics flourishes is because management usually tolerates—and even sometimes encourages—it. John Thornton, Thailand country manager of recruitment start-up TribeHired, says that in a previous workplace, he had taken up his problems with office politics up to higher levels of management, only to have them ignore the problem. By establishing a healthy company culture and actively discouraging toxic behaviors, you can discourage office politics from developing and affecting your team’s productivity.
“We wanted an environment where we held each other accountable for their own behavior,” says Thornton. “I was almost an extremist in my views that all ego should be left at home before entering the office. Our employees know that they can work in a place that has understanding and support. If anything did arise then they would be safe in the knowledge that the management wouldn't tolerate such toxic behavior.”
3. Foster an open communication system
Luna Javier, co-founder and creative director of the Manila-based game development company Altitude Games, explains that making openness and transparency a priority has helped create a healthy work environment in her start-up.
“We start each week with an all-hands meeting where we discuss each project’s status, but also the status of the company financially,” Javier explains. “Start-ups are unstable by nature, so rather than keeping things secret and making business decisions behind closed doors, we tell the company what we’re doing and why. We also hired an HR associate even though we’re a small start-up, so people can talk to HR if they don’t feel comfortable giving their concerns to the executive team directly. Regular one-on-one check-ups with HR have resulted in us being made aware of problems very early. Everyone has been honest and open with each other; it really is a great place to work.”
4. Set up your team for success
Office politics often arises because of feelings of discontentment and insecurity. If employees feel like they’re not valued, or if their career growth has been put on hold, some will resort to playing political games to stand out and gain favor. But if management would set their employees up for success and make them feel supported, working towards a common goal becomes the priority—not getting ahead.
“If management decided to involve everyone in the success of the company, then people can get behind their decisions,” Javier adds. “If you’re honest about your start-up’s financial situations, then individual contributors won’t be so uncertain that they’ll secretly look for other jobs. It all boils down to trust—trust that everyone [not just management] wants your company to succeed.”
5. Hire team players
It’s relatively easier to manage toxic behaviors in a smaller company, but as a company grows, so does the likelihood of discontentment and insecurity. But management can deter the rise of office politics by hiring people who work well with others and steering clear of people who seem to put their own agendas ahead of the team’s.
Or, as Thornton of TribeHired points out, just hire competent people who will be focused on being productive, not playing political games. “In most situations, office politics stems from people who know they have weaknesses and they don’t want to be found out,” he says. “So to cover for this, they will often spread false rumors about others to deflect attention from themselves.”
Being more intentional with who you bring into your company can save you and your team a lot of stress and preserve the healthy culture you worked so hard to establish.