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A leadership challenge
Many leaders shudder when they think about dealing with “office politics.”
Specifically, they are stressed by unhealthy or negative office politics.
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A rundown: “office politics” is the social structure that develops in the workplace. We have the org chart; we have our division or work team; we have our friends, mentees, lunch-buddies, etc.
In a healthy organization, we use these networks to get stuff done to benefit the clients or customers, make a healthy profit, and keep everyone dependably employed.
Negative office politics occur when someone uses these social networks to advance their personal agenda at the expense of other people. They might start rumors about a coworker to knock them out of competition for a promotion. They might undermine another work team so their own team gets assigned to the new client. They might use favoritism or nepotism to advance over more qualified professionals. They might bully or intimidate coworkers and create a hostile work environment for people who aren’t in their clique.
If left unchecked, this creates silos, weakens the company, erodes morale and retention, and generally creates a “toxic work environment.”
As leaders, we set the tone, so if we see this is happening, it is up to us to fix it.
No favoritism. Give every member of your team a path to improve and grow. Obviously, your 15-years-of-experience person will have a more advanced path than your first-year-hire, but everyone should see a path that they can take to the next level. Give everyone a chance to show you what more they can do.
Communicate your expectations. Be a role model for not bad-mouthing coworkers or clients behind their backs. Confirm the facts rather than believing the rumor. Talk to the people involved individually and let them know the standard of professionalism you expect and will uphold. Don’t let bad behavior fester.
De-toxify. If one team develops an us-versus-them mentality with another part of the company, split up that team. Rotate some of the old people out and bring in some of the new people. Re-arrange the workstations to reduce the clique cohesion. Basically, if the “vibe” of the work group reminds you of junior high school, it’s past time for an intervention.