How to banish office politics from your startup


Open work spaces. Check. Ping-pong tables. Check. PlayStation console. Check. Bean bags. Check. Hammocks. Check. Inspiration and ideas wall. Check.

Just when you thought your startup has a unique culture, free from the evils of the corporate work culture, something annoying creeps up – office politics. In his piece in the Harvard Business Review on why startups are not immune to office politics, David A. Frankel, managing partner of executive advisory firm Slingstone Group, says, “Whenever there is a group of people working together – whether it is 300 or 300,000 – there is always going to be some level of politics. Everyone comes to the table with their own personal goals, egos, aspirations and agendas, and in order for someone to get what they want, there is always going to be some level of compromise, negotiation and politicking.”

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So when does this turn into a problem? When it starts affecting employee morale and productivity and it puts the company’s work output and goals at a risk, that’s when most entrepreneurs and managers realise its presence. Do not wait for a crisis/incident to deal with a problem like office politics, which can be struck right at the root. Here are a few tips to deal with office politics and make sure that such instances can be removed from your culture.

Penalise those who indulge in politics

This is the first step towards ensuring that your employees do not indulge in internal politics in the future. Make it known that such behaviour will not be taken lightly or tolerated in your organisation. You could issue personal warnings to those whom you know to be indulging in self-serving behaviour at work. If it persists, you could penalise them by not issuing them bonuses, promotions or rewards that they would have otherwise gotten. Make sure that such behaviour is penalised irrespective of whichever level of the organisational structure the perpetrator belongs to.

Be transparent in your operations

According to Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne, transparency should be the cornerstone of every startup. The startup behind the social sharing app makes it a point to keep their employees in the known about every single thing that happens within and outside its four walls. Right from the salaries of all their employees to the revenue they make, their policies and their funding, everything is available to employees and is updated regularly. “Transparency breeds trust, helps with innovation as the company grows and leads to greater justice,” says Joel. It also keeps office politics at bay. When the operations are transparent, there is no way any one employee can one-up another or get an undue benefit out of pushing their personal agendas.

“Transparency breeds trust, helps with innovation as the company grows and leads to greater justice.”

Address disagreements and conflicts instantly

As an entrepreneur or manager, you should not shun away from getting involved in the problems or disagreements between employees that are brought to you. As a startup, your organisation will benefit only from effective collaboration among your team, so it is important that you find immediate solutions to such problems and warn those who are at fault strictly. Unlike a big corporation where employees knowingly indulge in internal politics to push their way up the ladder, startups should breed a sense of community and togetherness where goals are achieved by working together rather than against each other.

Review employee performance regularly

In a startup, it is easier to sit down with employees personally and review their performance regularly. When you do, do not restrict yourself to their technical or work-based performance. Talk about how their performance aligns or does not align with company values. Discuss their performance as part of teams and as mentors. Regular checks on behaviour and clear communication about what is expected from employees will help instil discipline in them. This also gives you a chance to listen to their side of the story. These tips on how to conduct an efficient performance review may come in handy.

Understand that being at the helm of affairs at a startup, you are in a better position to handle such tricky frictions at the workplace. Up your standards as a leader and make your vision known to your employees. Drive them to strive for it as much as you do and create a culture that fosters friendship rather than politics.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)