Thursday, March 15, 2012

Managing Office Politics in a Small Business Setting

Simply put, you can’t maintain an office without office politics. Even a small business with just a handful of staff members won’t be able to totally hide from it. But just because office politics are part of doing business doesn’t mean they should become a distraction. Whether you are an employee, a manager or an owner, you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the staff in order to avoid potential blow-ups that can result with office politics gone awry. When left unchecked these matters can bring productivity to a screeching halt. Here are some issues to consider when confronting office politics:

Stay focused on goals

Office politics most often concern jockeying for position. Workers feel that need to always be the “number one” pick of their supervisors. The theory goes that if they become the “go-to person” then they are aligning themselves for advancement within the company. Unfortunately, this might mean advancement at the expense of other workers through gossip and back-stabbing. None of this has anything to do with achieving the goals set forth by the upper management.

As a staff member your best course of action is to complete the assigned tasks to the best of your ability. Simply by doing that you’ll automatically become the “go-to person.” If you’re in the role of supervisor, it is your responsibility to nip any gossip in the bud by asking the question, “What does this have to do with getting the job done?” Unless there is a compelling answer for that question, any rumor or gossip is just a distraction.

Avoid taking sides

The best way to confront distracting office politics is to adopt a position of neutrality. This can be a challenge, especially if you are working in a small business and are called in to judge a conflict between two staff members. In those cases, you need to deal with the facts at hand. This is where getting it in writing matters. For instance, if you are in a position to hand out an assignment, make sure everyone within the staff circle understands what their responsibility will be for that project. This isn’t an issue of picking favorites, but of utilizing the most qualified member of the staff for the assignment. By including everyone in these decisions, no one can argue with the intent. 

Keep it professional

There is no way to 100% avoid personality conflicts among staff members. No matter how thorough you conduct an employee interview, sometimes you just can anticipate how well co-workers will get along. Accept that not everyone has to like everyone, as long as they can work together and move on. Sometimes this might mean forgoing socializing with workers after hours, especially if this socializing is going to involve spreading malicious gossip. A small business tends to bond more easily than a large corporation. However, team-building outside of work is one thing, but gripe sessions don’t accomplish anything. There should be a specified chain of command in the management structure to handle any personality complaints.