Struggling to Innovate? Office Politics Is Probably Getting In the Way

Innovation is never easy, but it can be made even more difficult when an organization is rife with internal politics. Just two members on a team with conflicting agendas can lead a project astray and leave the rest of the team confused, frustrated and disengaged.

Office politics on their own can do some serious damage to a company. Given enough time, they can even become a part of the culture, affecting relationships and creating bottlenecks at every level, which is especially troubling in small businesses with only a handful of workers. In fact, turf wars, politics, and lack of alignment topped the list of common obstacles to innovation, with 55 percent of surveyed leaders citing internal squabbling as the worst offender.

No Quick Fix

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to office politics, especially when they relate to innovation. The only real solution comes from the top. It requires strong leadership and a clear communication strategy that instills the idea that both innovation and collaboration are requirements of every person’s job.

This will certainly become a balancing act on your part. You can’t very well stop team-wide initiatives until things are resolved. But you also can’t barrel ahead without addressing the issue at hand. The goal here is to move forward with innovation while ensuring that all team members recognize the faith and trust you have in everyone involved.

This isn’t to say people won’t feel as if another employee is encroaching on their territory. Forrester found that 43 percent of businesses experience internal battles over ownership. That’s why communication is so important to innovation — and keeping internal politics at bay, I should add.

As a small business leader, it’s up to you to explain and define each team member’s role and responsibility in the initiative. You want to be as transparent as possible about the project from the very start, and the following should help in creating a team equipped for innovation:

1. Keep it real. 

A team, no matter its size, can solve almost any problem when approaching it as a united front. But that’s not possible until everyone grasps the current state. Don’t gloss over the situation. Instead, be upfront and honest about what you hope to accomplish and why you hope to accomplish it — not to mention any potential hurdles along the way. If you present people the whole truth, they will feel your trust and rise to the occasion.

2. Relinquish control. 

You’ve no doubt developed some semblance of a plan. And like the truth, this should also be shared. Once you reveal the objectives and parameters, give your team members the freedom to make decisions on their own. If you allow people to take ownership of a problem, the desire to arrive at a solution is, naturally, greater. In turn, your team will likely achieve the goals at a much faster rate — and within the set parameters, no less.

3. Listen. 

People will always be your greatest resource. Each member of your team brings a unique perspective to a situation — if they feel comfortable sharing it. Establish an environment where everyone feels heard. Encourage team members to share their thoughts on the challenges facing business. You’ll be amazed by many of the solutions brought to the table.

4. Get buy-in. 

Skepticism is inevitable, even with directives coming from the business owner or the boss. Again, this goes back to the environment you’re trying to create, so it’s important to be sensitive to people’s concerns. Set aside some time for a one-on-one conversation. Make sure the naysayer feels heard by considering their perspective. At the same time, however, reiterate your expectations for participation. Innovation in all its forms should be a team effort.

If you’re leading up an innovation effort within your team, understand that the only true means of resolving a process issue or challenge is to become an integrated team. The goal is to work together to produce a meaningful and innovative solution. Otherwise, the effort won’t provide the anticipated results.

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