Although it may not be politically correct to say so, I don’t see anything wrong with office politics–unless you go about it the Bonaparte way: “In politics… never retreat, never retract… never admit a mistake.” (Machiavelli is another one I wouldn’t emulate.)
But politics are a natural outgrowth of any organization. You simply can’t escape the fact that your business is made up of people, all of whom have different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. These differences sometimes create divergent priorities for each department and each person, causing turf wars, resentment, and jealousy. And things can get really nasty when closed-door meetings become the norm and employees forget the importance of mutual respect.
But you can create an environment that benefits from differing opinions and a little creative tension. Here are some tips:
1. Get real.
Encourage people to engage in and contribute to important discussions–and then actually let them do it. Don’t do it just for appearances or “buy-in,” and then go behind closed doors to make the real decisions. Asking an employee (no matter his or her pay grade) for ideas or guidance is not just a significant ego boost for him or her; it will also help you solve some of your toughest business challenges.
2. Give clear direction.
Be sure you have a goal–and that you’ve communicated it clearly to everyone involved. Want to squash infighting and childish backstabbing? Share the “bigger picture” and reward those who consistently contribute to it. When everyone has an identical goal, it’s less likely that people will behave in their own best interests.
3. Veto power plays.
Don’t allow arguing for argument’s sake. Guide your team to value healthy conflict and change. Encourage your managers to fight for their teams (not their annual bonus) and push for the greater good of the company (not their next promotion).
4. Reject negative politics on the spot.
Just don’t allow it. When it happens, immediately bring in participants and work through it. Then get back to work. You must make it abundantly clear that negative politics will never be tolerated.
Grow an organizational culture with a love of open debate and appreciation for new viewpoints, and you’ll be embracing the positive in office politics in no time. Let the politicians backstab one another on TV. Don’t let it happen in your office.