Working in an office might seem like a distant past for some who can work remotely 100% of the time.
For others who might be back to the office most of the time or a hybrid, one element that many are likely dreading is the always present office politics.
The personality clashes, the micromanagement, the secret agendas, the jockeying for attention of the boss, the list goes on.
I have never heard anyone say, “I really enjoy the office politics.”
Contrarily, “I hate the office politics,” is something I have heard time and time again.
It is understandable that heading back to the office and the politics that come with it are among the list of reasons people might want to stay away.
Yet, if we have no choice, my suggestion would be to look at it differently.
We have, maybe for the first time ever, a chance at a clean slate.
This type of clean slate usually only happens when someone leaves their job and starts in a new environment.
This can also happen when a substantial amount of people leave the team or organization.
Rarely do we get a chance to have a clean slate with the same colleagues we have worked with for years.
At this point, some might be thinking it is simply not possible and if that is the case, I understand if you stop reading.
If you are still reading, allow me to suggest an idea of where to begin.
Start by making a short list of the issues you faced in the past and in this, I suggest looking in all directions as well as in the mirror.
I call this leading in all directions.
Look to your supervisors, look to your colleagues at your same level that you work with, the colleagues at your same level you interact with in other units in your organization. If you have subordinates, consider them as well. Now, look back into your own past, your present and your future.
For the sake of this articles, I will call these individuals, the directions.
Ask two questions to start.
What is one thing you might have needed from each direction in the past that you did not get? Or, something that you did not appreciate that they did.
Next, ask yourself what is one thing you might have given each direction in the past that you did not give? Or, something that you did that they did not appreciate?
Considering you are part of the direction, factor yourself also, something you should have done and did not do and something you might need to do moving forward.
Because you have many directions to look at, don’t add more than one element per direction.
Now comes the hard part.
Given your clean slate, decide on a proactive step you will take to reach out to each direction and have a conversation with the person.
Although this might seem difficult and scary, your alternative is to go back to the same old office politics.
As an example, if you have an environment that does not have clear roles and responsibilities that lead to conflicts, suggest an exercise to clarify them.
If you work with someone who constantly is stealing your ideas, suggest a new idea suggestion process whereby the author of the idea is clearly identified.
You might have one person on your team that is a bully that no one stands-up to. You might confer with your colleagues to see if you are all on the same page and suggest setting up a team charter. The charter might not stop the bad behaviour yet could act as a benchmark for what is and is not acceptable.
If you have a supervisor that micromanages you on a daily basis, suggest a new model of communication by setting clear expectations with one weekly meeting and agenda questions instead of agenda items.
Additionally, use a different angle if you can by taking the time to look for common interests and see if you can encourage new activities that bring people together.
For example, if people like to cook, propose a pot-luck lunch for team birthdays.
If your colleagues like movies, a mid-week after work movie with popcorn in the office lounge might be a fun idea.
Sharing trivia questions and answers could also be a break-room activity.
It is much more difficult to have conflicts with people that you see as similar to yourself with the same issues, challenges and interests than someone who you place in the “them” category.
To summarize, the key theme is to be proactive to try and change the office political environment. This can be achieved by influencing, questioning, having necessaryconversations, by acting and doing things differently.
At the end of the day, if you have no choice but to go back to work, you do have a choice not to accept the office politics as usual.