The term ‘office politics’ often brings with it negative connotations. They include the likes of gossip mongering, secrecy, one-upmanship and cliquey behaviour.
However, in light of global turmoil in the form of the pandemic, the state of play across UK and US politics and Brexit, we’re all without doubt craving the return of positive office politics and a sense of structure and normality.
As we prepare to re-enter the workplace once again, a good business leader should take the time to develop strategies and harness office politics to build a strong and supportive employee network. This approach, in turn, will help to foster a healthy, honest and open environment.
This is because the practice of positive politics enables organisations to further their interests, as well as that of their teams, in an appropriate manner to achieve subsequent success. Meanwhile, negative politics facilitate needless suffering which will result in lower morale and an overall reduction in productivity.
Here, we explore the life-affirming aspects we can take from office politics to maintain high workplace standards.
Review the company’s organisational structure
Office politics often go against the grain, even so far as on occasion rebelling against the formal company structure. Bearing this in mind, try to take the time to observe the hierarchy for a while to ascertain who holds the influence and power within your business. You might just find that it doesn’t necessarily align with a person’s rank or job title.
Think about the different characters and personalities in your workplace, who is and isn’t respected, who is supportive and helps others and who appears to hold the reins or be the brains behind the business.
Understand how the internal network operates
When you have a clear idea where the power and influence lie, this flags a great opportunity to understand the internal network, often based on employees’ interactions, behaviour and relationships. Try to find out who gets on with who and those individuals who tend not to get involved. Identify different groups and whether they are based on friendship, respect or romance. Finally, try to decode how influence flows between the parties, who holds the power and whether there are any examples of conflict, or even bullying.
Once you’ve established how existing company relationships work, you can start to build your own social network. Look beyond your immediate team and across the formal hierarchy in all directions; from peers and colleagues to managers and senior leaders. Don't be afraid of the identified powerful people, instead, get to know them, and build high-quality connectionswhich aren’t merely based on being sycophantic. Be friendly with everyone, but avoid aligning yourself too closely with one particular group. If you wish to embark upon a personal relationship at work, be certain to base it on consent, to avoid any suggestion of illegal or inappropriate influence.
Develop good personal skills
Politics are all about the people involved, so strong interpersonal skills will prepare you well when it comes to building and maintaining your network. Reflect on what triggers your emotions and how you act upon them. If you can learn to control them, you’ll instinctively learn how to think before you act. This kind of intuitiveness will help you to pick up on other people's emotions, while understanding what kind of approach, be it subtle or straight talking, they might favour. Learn to listen carefully too. When you invest time in listening, you'll slow down, focus and learn, and people will appreciate you for it.
Capitalise on your network
Through your relationships, you can build your own reputation across the company and use the positives to help collectively raise the profile of your team in order to be successful. When you communicate your achievements to your connections, they might provide better opportunities for you to prove yourself to your wider team and manager.
Take the plunge and be brave
Your first instinct might be to keep your distance from people who exercise negative politics. However, the opposite can be more effective if you stick to the age-old adage: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, which can often be applied in the office politics arena.
So, get to know the rumour spreaders and manipulators better. Be courteous but guarded, as they may repeat what you say with a negative angle. Try to understand their goals, so that you can avoid the impact of their negative actions. Be aware that some people self-sabotage or behave badly because they feel insecure. However, protect yourself as much as possible from anyone you suspect of using underhand tactics to realise their ambitions as they are likely to impinge on your career progress.
Overcome negative politics
You can help to ensure your workplace is happier and positive by not adding to the problem and joining in with negative politics. Avoid sharing rumours without taking time to carefully consider their source, credibility and impact so that whatever you do share is true and can be proven. Don't rely solely on the notion of confidentiality. It's safer to assume that whatever you say will be repeated, so choose carefully which information you reveal.
Remain professionalat all times and never take sides or unwillingly get in to arguments. When a conflict arises, opt out and seek a solution that is positive for everyone. If you're expressing a concern of your own, be confident and assertive but not aggressive and adopt an organisational perspective, rather than one which is self-serving.
Office politics are a reality that employees will encounter at some point during their career. Avoiding them altogether risks not having a say in what happens across the wider business. It also allows people with less experience or expertise to rise up and influence decisions which directly affect both you and your progress.
To talk in more detail about how to cultivate a good workplace culture, please contact us.