How to Keep Office Politics From Breaking the Project Pipeline

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Project PipelineMost teams function best when everyone is actively engaged on business and not drama. In fact, a survey published by Gallup titled “The State of the American Workplace” showed that only 30% of employees were engaged, 52% were disengaged, and 18% were actively disengaged and emotionally disconnected from their workplace from 2010 to 2012. According to Gallup, this means that the actively disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses between $450 billion to $550 billion per year. 

Addressing the problem is multifaceted; but one way to encourage more interconnection and less emotional apathy is to not allow office politics to creep into the culture. Creating a healthy environment among your project management members will go a long way to generating more intellectual and emotional investment on your team.

So how do you do this? Consider these seven steps to start you off in the right direction.

1) Don’t foster an environment that encourages power plays.

Power plays are, unfortunately, a common disfunction in not only office interaction, but many interpersonal relationships. Power plays are conscious transactions between people in which one person attempts to cause another to do something that they don’t want to do, or to prevent that person from doing something that they want to do. While you can also force an action on someone physically, violence often involves court appearances and pink slips. So, people use words, passive-aggressive actions, guilt, and manipulation to conscientiously change other’s behavior in a more subtle, less prison-inducing fashion.

While eliminating all power plays from the office environment is the goal, it is often difficult to completely eradicate. You just can’t supervise every office interaction. Also, most business environments naturally bring out competitive actions among employees, as there are usually less promotions than people vying for them creating a scarcity complex.  However, discouraging certain behaviors such as gossip, intimidation, lying, and control of others will help foster a more cooperative team.

To avoid power plays, encourage communication to occur in a more constructive way. The opposite of a power play is someone simply stating what they want or need to others. Many power plays are not even necessary. If people will simply ask or voice their needs openly, their fellow employees may be more than willing to comply. Try to create an environment where people feel safe enough to express their desires and feelings without deciding it is better to resort to power plays. Open communication and trust will keep this behavior to a minimum and allow the development of a more productive, cohesive team.

2) The team is the reflection of the leadership, so lead wisely.

People often don’t comprehend the power of the words and actions of leaders on the entire organization. Yet, every leader’s localized action creates ripples felt throughout the team. Negative internal or external dialog can crush creativity, mental aptitude, and attitude. In order to create the best project management team, you must be a leader that fosters communication and camaraderie. If people enjoy working with you and feel confident in their roles, they will give you their best efforts.

How do you do this? One way is to invest in personality assessments to help everyone understand how to create the best level of communication among your team members. One such assessment often utilized is the Myers-Briggs Assessments. After the results are in, help people understand and convey their interaction style to their peers. Understanding the best approach based on individual needs helps people become more tolerant of their teammate’s differences, vs. feeling that everyone should approach the world in the same way. Remember to take time to lead your employees in team-building activities to further strengthen their connections within the unit.

3) Embrace service instead of power.

Often summarized by the term “servant leadership,” coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, this type of philosophy focuses on the development and growth of the entire organization. A servant leader doesn’t think of themselves at the top of the pyramid where everything nasty flows downhill, but instead as someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside their people. While roles are defined, servant leaders are not caught up in their own power and position. Instead, they focus on the development and health of those that they coach.

When a leader puts the needs of others before their own prestige or individuality, this attitude will be reciprocated by the rest of the organization. The more people feel valued and are able to witness solid examples of service from their superiors, the less likely they will be to engage in personal power struggles with their co-workers.

4) Don’t ignore office tension, address it.

Inevitably conflicts will arise. It may simply be one person with a bad attitude, or a dispute between two passionate parties. If you are dealing with one individual, address their underlying feelings privately in a positive manner. Don’t simply allow them to vent to the entire team through whining or complaining. This toxic presence can hurt everyone’s outlook.

If you notice anger building between two team members, while it may seem tempting to just let everything work itself out, if the tension starts to affect the entire team it’s time to address it tactfully. Gather stories independently from both sides from those directly involved, not from office gossip. Then, bring everyone together to work out a solution. Try to find the common ground that both sides can agree upon and build on this platform. Find the compromise. In order to work together, both sides should be willing to give in a little for the greater good. Make sure to address any negative feelings. If you don’t, you may defuse the current situation, but the hurt will remain and reappear in later conflict. Remember to keep everything positive and reaffirm to both employees that they are valued equally and that you are not taking sides.

Learning to become a fair mediator is an important leadership skill that many people avoid practicing due to the uncomfortable nature of gaining the experience. However, ignoring tension will only allow it to grow. Instead, find the positive spin on being pushed out of your comfort zone and gain the valuable life experience of working through it by addressing conflict confidently.

5) Encourage mentorship relationships.

One simple way to grow good vibes within your team is to encourage mentorship relationships. Some companies do mentorship group meetings, while others create one-on-one pairings based on similar interests and goals. No matter what works best for your company culture, it is important not to overlook this important connection. You can follow the established programs that pair newer employees with upper management, a peer-based mentoring group platform, or even a reverse mentoring program, which companies like Citibank utilize, where subordinates give advice and ideas to upper management.

No matter what, encouraging people to exchange ideas and support one another is never a bad investment in your team culture. People need mentors that they respect to help them reach their career goals and hold them accountable in areas where they want to improve.

6) Set clear expectations.

You want to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and able to make the most of their creative energies. One way to do this is to ensure people are clear on their responsibilities and deadlines. Unmet expectations are the soil for conflict to grow. Taking the time to invest in extra communication so that everyone is on the same page can go a long way to eliminating frustrations before they can even take seed.

7) When giving negative feedback, be tactful and private.

It is often said that feedback is a gift. However, when it addresses personal shortcomings, it’s often one that we wish we had a return policy. As a leader, you will be faced with the task of delivering feedback that may not always be glowing.

When you must give negative feedback, make sure that you have given plenty of positive observations as well. Start with an honest compliment first. Give constructive criticism sparingly and in small doses from an empathetic place. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t stockpile complaints to give all at once. And, make sure you do it in an actual face-to-face private conversation and not over email. Take the time to understand the employee’s thought process and listen to them. Ask them why they approached the situation in that particular way to uncover their perspective.

Most of the time, people know where they need improvement or if they aren’t doing well. Involve them in their success strategy and become a trusted resource. Ask them what they need from you to help them achieve their goals. When they understand that you only want to empower them to reach their full potential, and are not attacking them, they will see the overall interaction as more productive than painful.

Finally, be open to accepting feedback yourself from anyone on the team. Seek it out from other team members to make sure that you don’t get too comfortable with your current management approach and style. We are often poor self-evaluators, and gaining actionable feedback from trusted sources is vital to becoming the best leader possible.

There have been entire books written about each of these topics if you feel like delving deeper. Spending the time on creating an environment where office politics can’t get an established foothold will go a long way toward building a project management culture that is full of engaged employees excited to be a part of your corporate family.

Sarah Hansen

Sarah Hansen

I'm a corporate-sales professional turned writer for TeamGantt. I went from increasing my professional value to following my moral values. Writing is an old friend of mine. After a decade selling for corporate giants and assimilating knowledge in business management and team building, I've returned to my first passion.

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