Thorny issue of office politics


    Aug 05, 2014

    Thorny issue of office politics

    OFFICE politics - there's a lot of it about, isn't there? Power-hungry groups who cannot get along with each other; overpaid personnel who never get the job done; or individuals who are focused on personal gain at the expense of the organisation - the list of types of office politics is a long one.

    Everyone enjoys good gossip from time to time, and harmless gossip is just that - harmless. Unfortunately, office politics - which is the use of power and social networking within an organisation to influence individuals and the business - is seldom harmless.

    In fact, it can be extremely detrimental. I have seen cases of office politics resulting in individuals being forced to leave a company, as well as the tragic demise of a business.

    All businesses suffer from office politics; small organisations tend to suffer the most.

    Handled effectively, you can nip its negative effects in the bud, before it has a chance to take hold.

    First, be aware of the signs of office politics rearing its ugly head. It starts mildly, with a minor piece of gossip about one person. When this gets passed on, gossip and rumours spread like wildfire.

    Be alert to any criticism and assess whether it is objective and fair. Always seek the source of the gossip by asking where or who it came from, and how the story originated.

    Often, informing the troublemakers that you will not tolerate gossip helps to end the problem.

    It is essential that their direct boss and the head of the company reiterate this message and, more importantly, demonstrate that they will not indulge in such gossip themselves.

    Every business is the lengthening shadow of one person. A boss who absolutely bans office politics can have widespread influence.

    The second step in stamping out office politics is directed at bosses: Keep your employees as busy as you can - frequently office politics is due to lack of significant work.

    This is not the same thing as "not enough work". There are many situations where everybody thinks they are busy, despite the fact that what they are doing is useless.

    Doing meaningful work means that employees understand clearly why they are doing what they are doing, what their responsibilities are, and how the outcome of this activity benefits the organisation.

    One company had a practice of forming focus groups, where employees from different divisions would meet for several hours every fortnight to discuss topics related to the company's long-term success.

    Setting up a focus group had become a standard procedure, followed blindly. The previous chief executive had started it years earlier.

    Such processes do not usually help improve productivity or motivate staff.

    Everyone was busy attending and preparing for such meetings, but no one was clear on why they were doing their jobs, and everyone avoided responsibility.

    Instead of being a platform for encouraging inter-division collaboration - one of the objectives of the focus group - it became a source of office politics, where staff were more focused on who stole whose idea, and the office romances happening between group members.

    Such a company needs to encourage enterprise, instead of running focus groups. This will involve instilling a collegial atmosphere in which supporting colleagues from different divisions come together naturally, and form teams to work on specific ideas for improving the business.

    Lofty goals like securing the "company's long-term success" are not productive. But teams responsible for specific projects with identifiable goals are invariably successful.

    These would include embarking on research projects to better understand new technologies and their possible applications, as well as setting up a social media strategy for the business.

    Teams can be rewarded for suggesting new ideas, including ones that are not immediately practical. When teams have meaningful tasks, they focus more on getting the job done, and less on office politics.

    Of all the problems that I have encountered in the business world, office politics is one of the most difficult to measure and to solve.

    Building social relationships is necessary for business, and often this comes hand in hand with office politics.

    Managing office politics effectively will allow you to tap the latent creativity of your employees.

    The writer is the chairman, chief executive and founder mentor of Terrific Mentors International (, a group of skilled mentors with significant management experience who share a passion for reviving balance sheets by restoring human spirits.