Managing organisational politics

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Managing organisational politics might not be the most enjoyable aspect of your job, but it is critical to your success as a leader. In this installment I explore some political pointers for anyone in charge of a creative team.

By Robert Mandeya

There is not an organisation on earth (or space for that matter) that does not have to deal with politics. The degree of organisational politics varies from one organisation to another but the reality is, all organisations have some sort of internal political struggle that can rip it apart. Dealing with this struggle takes a keen awareness of the landscape, players and rules in which the political game is played. Do not delude yourself that your organisation has no politics. The reality of any organisation with more than one person is that politics is the lubricate that oils your organisation’s internal gears.

What does organisational politics involve?

There is some degree of organisational politics at play in virtually every office. Organisational politics involves employees putting their own interests above the good of the company — and their colleagues and bosses. While this dynamic is more prevalent within certain firms or in-house departments, few are completely immune.

The challenge for managers is that, if left unchecked, the negativity that results from an overly competitive work environment can create a toxic atmosphere that erodes morale and undermines your work environment and ultimate productivity.

A little friendly competition amongst your creative team members is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. But there is a fine line between fostering a healthy workplace environment that fuels stronger team performance and one that leads to acrimony and rivalries.

The good news is that there is always a way of managing organisational politics.

Understanding political landscape

Your organisation’s political landscape starts from the top. Whomever leads your organisation will not only form the landscape but also influence the rules (more on that later). The political landscape is the formal hierarchy, informal hierarchy and alternative hierarchies that link the political players together.

Auditing of the environment

Do you know if your employees feel like they have to engage in some political jockeying in order to get ahead — or at least not fall behind? Even if you think you know the answer, make the effort to ask and observe.

Step back and assess your company culture from the perspective of your employees. Are roles and career paths clearly defined? Are promotions, bonuses or even public praise tied tightly to performance — or does it sometimes come down to who is the savviest self-promoter? Before you can address issues surrounding organisational politics, you need to view the landscape through the eyes of your team members.

Close tabs on undercurrents

To be effective, politicians need to be in touch with the issues affecting their constituents. The same is true of the relationship between managers and employees. So when it comes to office politics, ignorance is not bliss.

Make a concerted effort to remain attuned to the prevailing mood of the office. Maintain an open-door policy and encourage staff to come to you with concerns. Also, because not everyone will be inclined to speak up about certain issues, proactively touch base with your team members periodically. Engaging in informal one-on-one chats on a regular basis allows you to monitor morale and nip problems in the bud.

Step in when necessary

Note that people who spend 40-plus hours a week together are bound to disagree at times. Power struggles, territorial tiffs and petty problems will occur. While you cannot afford to insert yourself into every minor squabble, do not sit by if conflict is hurting productivity and getting in the way of business priorities.

When it is clear intervention is necessary, call a meeting and listen objectively to the concerns of all parties involved. If you come to realise that one person is often the source of friction, swiftly meet with him or her individually.

Manipulation, mudslinging, sabotage and spotlight stealing are all highly corrosive (and potentially contagious) behaviours. Do not let one bad apple spoil the bunch. Your willingness to address discord early on — and head-on — will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy environment.

Don’t play favourites

You obviously want to make every effort to retain your top performers — but not at the expense of anyone else. Establishing special rules that only seem to apply to select individuals will undoubtedly spur resentment.

Perceptions matter. If you have reprimanded people for arriving late to meetings, do not turn a blind eye when your most fovourite person saunters in five minutes after everyone else. If you allow your closest ally to telecommute two days a week, others should be granted the same opportunity.

Giving preferential treatment can lead recipients to develop a sense of entitlement, while upsetting everyone else. Establish a reputation for being fair and enforcing policies evenly.

Be a good role model

Your employees take their attitudinal cues from you so practice what you preach. Display a positive attitude in the face of adversity, steer clear of gossip, and never openly criticise the decisions of your own boss or peers. The bottom line is you can not completely eliminate the negative aspects of organisational politics. But when you are supportive, loyal and team-oriented, employees will be far more likely to follow your lead.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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