Can an organization eradicate workplace politics completely? Defined by the Harvard Business Review as “a variety of activities associated with the use of influence tactics to improve personal or organizational interests”, politics at the workplace is inevitable.
Undeniably, wielding influence to achieve positive outcomes is encouraged. However the question leaders should be asking is, are fragmented individual agendas taking precedence over an organization’s mission? The point where office politics affects overall morale is when it becomes negative. Personally I deplore politics in the workplace, it’s unproductive, often toxic and carries a lot of negative sentiment. Thankfully when the workplace culture is strong it makes it very easy for office politics to be exposed.
Leaders are key in eradicating negative politics
While politics arise from the dynamics among individuals over a sustained period of time, Deloitte’s research shows that the way leaders behave can drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not. In this regard, leaders should be astute enough to recognise that ultimately, negative politics boil down to a handful of employees who are insecure about their own position, resorting to undermining others to divert attention from their ineptitude. We need to be intentional about setting the right tone, by walking the talk, creating conditions for diversity and inclusion to permeate all levels of the organisation and to materialize as impactful actions.
The truth is, not one individual knows everything and if a leader creates a work environment which is safe for people to be vulnerable, then that weakness becomes a strength and people will come together to complement each other rather than compete and create unhealthy friction e.g. jockeying for roles, creating a conflicting agenda, sabotaging projects, taking credit for others’ work or even simple things like managing up by only giving good news.
It is an important responsibility for leaders to reduce and obviously eradicate negative workplace politics. When they do that, employees become more engaged, collaborative, participate and contribute more ideas.
Reward collaborative behaviour and not just individual successes
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Recognise that only a team effort will propel the organization forward and encourage cooperative behaviour. This ties back to reminding teams to contribute towards a common goal instead of merely focusing on personal achievements. Creating shared success should be a responsibility of everyone.
Communicate clearly and openly
During this period of remote working amidst the pandemic, a lack of in-person communication could have exacerbated any deep-seated problems among teams. Conflicts result from team members who are unable to reconcile differences in opinions or when there is unequal access to information. Added pressure from the inability to arrive at a consensus lead to more misunderstandings. Identify a North Star so that the team stays on course in the work that they do. Reiterate common goals and objectives so that everyone can work towards them. Disseminate information equally to remove ambiguity for employees to have consistent understanding of what goes on in the organization.
A culture of inclusion dissipates negative politics
Breeding a culture of inclusion is the cornerstone of having diverse teams that are empowered to grow and do their best work. Employees feel included when they are treated with respect and equitably such that they develop a sense of belonging within the organization. Organizations with inclusive cultures are three times as likely to be high performing and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Building a diverse team is more than just completing the entire series of trading cards, instead, it is a lens to examine and refine business practices to be more attuned to market needs. Beyond demographic diversity, differences also come in the form of six mental frameworks to approach complex problems, namely evidence, options, outcomes, people, process and risk. Studies have shown how diversity of thinking increases innovation by 20% and reduces risk by 30%.
Empower teams by bridging differences
Looking at these figures that demonstrate the benefits of diversity and inclusiveness, it is plain to see the damaging power of an organization through negative politics. Team members fear the repercussions of speaking up, or do not have the opportunity to voice their concerns while the dominant voices reaffirm skewed perspectives into a downward spiral of groupthink. In some instances, the organization stagnates over time while more extreme cases lead to catastrophes.
Balance participation to ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute. At times, it may be necessary to invite certain individuals to speak up if they can contribute to a more holistic discussion. Dedicate time to connect with teams and lead with empathy and compassion. Like I mentioned in my earlier blogpost about servant leadership, this will create a space for employees to raise issues and express honest opinions without fear of being judged. Sincere employee engagement will assure them about their future at the company and contribute to its growth when they see their growth tied to the organization’s growth.
Employees’ well-being is a precursor of productivity. When energy is spent on maneuvering negative politics, it is at the expense of an employees’ mental health and detracts from the great work that employees want to deliver. Talent retention also becomes significantly more difficult.
In summary, the nature of human relationships is complex and it would be a reductionist approach to assume negative undercurrents can be smoothed out with a simple list. More often than not, it takes years to build a conducive workplace culture. Constant reminders of mutual respect and inclusion are baby steps toward the end goal, which require teamwork from all members of the organization.
Read more about Cloudera’s culture of diversity and inclusion here.