Workplace politics are common up and down the country. You’ll recognise them if you’ve ever spotted someone using a strategy in the workplace that gains them an advantage – either personally or for a cause they support. Sometimes it can take the very toxic form of criticism, complaint or even contempt, but often it’s more subtle, such as ensuring that small handful of people in an organisation have the most influence or power. Office politics that take this form tend to be inevitable for the following reasons:
- Hierarchical structures in an organisation mean that some people have more power and influence than others.
- Promotions and pay rises are important to people, which inevitably creates a sense of competition between individuals.
- Many people passionately care about decisions in the workplace and therefore bring their personal feelings into workplace issues.
- The objectives for the business can conflict with an individual’s objectives, creating tension.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t diffuse the effects of office politics to some degree. For example, you could begin by ‘re-mapping’ your organisational chart. Take a look around the building (you’ll need to be well-acquainted with staff and processes in order to do this accurately) and answer the following questions:
Who is respected?
Who are the decision makers?
Who are the real influencers?
Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it?
Who supports or mentors others?
Once you’ve identified the components of this formal network, you can pay close attention to the behaviours of the individuals involved. Ask them to become self-aware, identifying their own biases and agendas, and ensure they reach out to less-influential members of the organisation for their input and feedback wherever possible. The purpose of this isn’t to control or modify an influential person’s behaviour, but to make them aware that they may have their own goals that could be influencing what’s happening in the organisation – and not always for the better.
Next, take a look at the more ‘informal’ networks in your business. These tend to be the friendship groups that arise from proximity, common interest or positions of seniority, and are worth looking at as they tend to exert low level, perpetual influence over other people in an organisation. For example:
Who gets on well together?
Who is often involved in conflict?
Are there cliques that have formed?
Who socialises together outside of work?
Once you’ve identified these informal networks, it’s important to try to mix things up a bit. So, for instance, host team-building days for your company where the friendship groups are mixed, and individuals with varying seniority get to know one another. Shake up project teams to include new members and move some staff onto new projects to see if the dynamics change for the better.
Also, it’s a good idea to host some training sessions to help individuals to govern their own behaviour. These sessions should focus on diffusing workplace politics by encouraging people to hold themselves to a set of standards. For example, not passing on gossip or spreading rumours, maintaining integrity and always acting in the organisation’s best interests, and taking a pragmatic approach when raising objections or criticisms rather than making personal attacks.
Finally, if your business is really struggling with workplace politics, toxic behaviour or conflict, you could call in an expert to help you deal with it. For example, you could seek advice from behavioural experts or human resources consultants to help make hr services in your business more effective. For example, experts could help you to see how to best manage workplace politics, and consultants could help you to specifically identify what kind of tools, changes and processes you’ll need to control workplace politics going forward.