How to Manage Organizational Politics

By Robert Half on September 22, 2020 at 5:00pm

Managing organizational politics might not be the most enjoyable aspect of your job, but it’s critical to your success as a leader. Here are some political pointers for anyone in charge of a team.

There’s some degree of politics at play in almost every department or company. What are organizational politics? Organizational politics involves employees engaging in activities intended to advance their own interests above the good of the company — and their colleagues and bosses.

While this dynamic is more prevalent within certain firms, few are completely immune. In fact, 65% of workers recently surveyed by Robert Half said participating in workplace politics is necessary to get ahead.

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 retention efforts.

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

Here’s a primer on how to effectively manage organizational politics:

Get the lay of the land

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 the climate from the perspective of your employees. Are roles and career paths clearly defined? Are public praise and promotions tied tightly to performance — or does it sometimes come down to who’s the savviest self-promoter? Before you can address issues surrounding organizational politics, you need to view the landscape through the eyes of your team members.

Keep 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 workplace politics, ignorance is not bliss.

Make a concerted effort to remain attuned to the prevailing mood among your staff. Encourage employees to reach out to you with their 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

Colleagues are bound to disagree at times. Power struggles, territorial tiffs and petty problems will occur. While you can’t afford to insert yourself into every minor squabble, don’t sit by if conflict is hurting productivity and getting in the way of business priorities.

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

Manipulation, mudslinging, sabotage and spotlight stealing are all highly corrosive (and potentially contagious) behaviors. Don’t let one self-serving 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 favorites

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’ve reprimanded people for being late to conference calls, you can't turn a blind eye when your MVP continually bows out. In the same vein, if you allow your closest ally to work a flexible schedule, 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 criticize the decisions of your own boss or peers.

The bottom line is you can’t completely eliminate the negative aspects of organizational politics, even when staff are working remotely. But when you’re supportive, loyal and team-oriented, employees will be far more likely to follow your lead.

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