How to Survive Office Politics

by Greg Skloot
Management   |   4 Min Read
office politics

Politics may be fun to follow like a reality show during elections, but not so fun when they exist in your organization’s team. Most leaders strive to have a team where everyone is maniacally focused on gains that benefit the organization as a whole. The reality is that each person has their own agenda, personal ambitions, biases and department-focus that he or she is considering. With no negative intent, this can create uncomfortable political climates.

Office politics are rarely 100% avoidable; we can’t change human nature. However, there are several valuable tactics that effective teams use to minimize politics and keep everyone aligned together.

1. Have clear cultural values

When your organization has clear cultural values, you can recruit, retain and release people based on a defined set of criteria that everyone understands. Most good value systems reward success of the team over the individual, collaboration and other traits that are incompatible with office politics. The key for making cultural values work is to truly live by them — write them down, reference them frequently and highlight how they influenced decisions.

2. Promote based on results

When promotion decisions are made for any reason other than results, it becomes difficult to survive office politics. There are many considerations for a promotion: cultural fit, ability to work with others, communication, personality and quality of output. If you successfully implement tactic #1 of having clear cultural values, you should ensure that any promotion aligns with those values. You could even have a checklist that you review when considering promoting someone to ensure they are ranking high on each of the values your team defined as important for your culture.

To get this right, it’s important to communicate reasons why someone is promoted. This sends a message to everyone else in the organization to look to that person as a role model for behavior that is rewarded in your company.

3. Communicate clearly

Ambiguous communication can be the root of negativity on a team. An environment becomes political when it is unclear what you are supposed to do and how you are going to be measured. This can be avoided by articulating a clear vision, defining goals, measuring progress, having decision-making meetings, sharing written updates, and having 1–1 meetings with the team regularly.

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4. Remove anyone who breaks the “no jerks” rule

Remove the bad apples from the bunch. There are people that unfortunately have been trained and wired to further office politics and make it difficult for others to survive. These employees are toxic, and must be removed from the group as fast as possible. This can be challenging when the bad apple is also highly productive. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was waiting too long to cut someone who was dragging the rest of the team down because of toxic political behavior, despite having a high quality of output. It’s never worth having that person on the team longterm.

5. Strive for transparency

A common symptom of office politics is when employees give different answers to different people. When the team prioritizes transparency, it is more difficult to succeed in being political. You can set the right tone for transparency in your weekly meetings and updates.

Leaders also need to be explicit when asking for feedback. Even just adding phrases such as “don’t sugarcoat it — tell me exactly what you’re thinking” can be a big help.

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