How to Manage Organizational Politics

Illustration of manager stopping an argument between coworkers.

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 creative team.

There’s some degree of organizational politics at play in virtually every office. Organizational 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 retention efforts.

A little friendly competition amongst your creative 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:

Do an audit 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’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 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

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 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’s clear intervention is necessary, call a meeting 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 meet with him or her individually.

Manipulation, mudslinging, sabotage and spotlight stealing are all highly corrosive (and potentially contagious) behaviors. Don’t 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 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 arriving late to meetings, don’t turn a blind eye when your MVP 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 criticize the decisions of your own boss or peers.

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

For more management insights and advice, check out our post on the most inspirational leadership styles.

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Tags: Leadership