When an organization gets mired in petty politics, alarm bells rarely sound. Stifling and destructive internal politicking can spread quietly and insidiously.
It's up to you to take the pulse of your people and ensure that they do their best work in an environment free of internal dissension. That requires keen observation and constant communication with your staff.
Heed early indicators that employees are afraid to state controversial opinions or take bold risks. You also need to detect when staffers subtly stab each other in the back or enhance their own reputation at the expense of others.
Some signs of insecurity are easy to spot. Workers who dish out gushy compliments to you and other higher-ups in an insincere tone may seek to ingratiate themselves. And if no one asks smart, challenging questions in a meeting, you may wonder if people are too afraid to speak up.
"One thing that drives me crazy is if it's 4:15 and [a salaried employee] is done, but he's just watching the clock so that when it's 5 he can walk out the door," says Daniel Amos, the chairman and CEO of Aflac, in Fortune magazine. "Just leave! Make it clear to employees that it's okay. But be sure the job gets done."
In a culture racked by internal politics, people worry excessively about how others perceive them. That's why they stay until closing time for no work-related reason.
They may also dwell on trivial issues such as the square footage and location of their office, their assigned seating at company-sponsored events and their spending authority (i.e., how much of the firm's cash they can spend without getting approval).
By investing so much energy on cosmetic concerns—on appearance over substance—employees overlook their actual work. Performance takes a back seat to looking good and crafting the right image.
If you want to reduce politics in your workplace, model forthright, results-oriented behavior. Take these steps:
Withhold your opinions about others when they're not present. Making critical comments about people in their absence opens the floodgates for others to engage in backstabbing.
Spread your attention to all your employees. Don't play favorites or unduly hype the work of one individual over others deserving of your praise. Make sure everyone gets a chance to chime in at meetings.
Talk shop. Use casual conversations with your staff as a chance to bounce around ideas and solve business problems. Chatting about who's "up" or "down" can detract from pressing issues.