Saturday, February 4, 2012

The games we play at work

Office culture - is dirty politics acceptable or not?

According to one definition of playing politics is: "to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative or devious way, as for job advancement"

Some companies seem to naturally attract highly tense and combative cultures while others seem able to exist in relative harmonious teams. If you find yourself in one that is highly political do you join in?

In my ideal world it is best to steer clear of any and all office politics, but doing this can be viewed as its own political stance, as you can be accused of indifference and thinking you are better then everybody else. 

Whatever happened to everybody just getting on with their own job and treating all colleagues with respect, whether you like them or not. Business is not personal, unfortunately many people cannot remember this and it all becomes about them.

Generally, there are no long term winners in office politics, if you are happy to get involved you have to expect it to turn around on you at some point. It always amuses me when the office gossip finds themselves on the receiving end and then complains!

With the now widespread use of email as preferred communication tool, politics has become even more insidious as many people find enormous levels of otherwise unknown courage and can mount campaigns, copying in vast numbers of people which results in email bullying and as it is in writing is nigh impossible to counteract or retract.

I have heard of a couple of recent examples of email gone wrong. The first was someone trying to send a bullying email. The receiver decided not to participate in an email war, but rather to go and confront them fact to face. The response was a rather panicked "What are you doing here, just go back and reply to the email".  Two questions spring to mind, can the keyboard really add that much courage, and how does a business operate effectively if staff can't simply talk to each other?

The second email example was during a discussion of storage capacity problems on the mail server and everyone's strange aversion to deleting unnecessary emails.One response was "I don't delete anything, how else do you gather enough evidence to fire someone". If this is typical of the viewpoint within this company it screams of a very dysfunctional culture. This type of attitude can also become a self fulling prophecy, if you expect the worst of staff or your team mates, you will get it.

So in regards to office politics - neutrality is usually what I aim for, that and the simple stance - don't say or do anything that you wouldn't say and do to the person's face. This is something I try and teach in training sessions, especially around conflict resolution and negotiation skills.

As we all know, culture is determined from the top down and many senior managers and business owners would benefit from walking about and really getting to understand the environment they have created, hopefully it would give them enough pause to actively participate in stamping out practices such as gossip, bullying, harassment and fear. Happy, satisfied and engaged staff add more value to business then any amount of political games.

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