How Facebook Shuts Down Toxic Office Politics
how to get people to focus on the work, not politics
Humans are political animals, so there’s probably no way we’ll ever completely stop building alliances, tracking power, and lobbying for resources. And why should we? Getting along in groups and making your voice heard are essential skills for success.
But there is definitely such a thing as too much politics. If you’ve ever worked in an environment where everyone was intensely focused on their own status, you probably don’t need a study to confirm that. But if you do, research exists. Excessive politicking is both bad for your career personally and, taken to extremes, for productivity overall.
This is a fact the smart folks at Facebook know well. Rather than scheming for promotions or undermining office rivals, the company wants their people focused on building great products. So how do they shut down office politics before it gets out of control? Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, recently shared a bevy of tips in a long and detailed HBR blog post. Here are just a few of his ideas:
1. Don’t hire self-centered people.
All the tips and tricks in the world won’t help you shut down status jockeying if your team consists largely of drama queens and self-interested empire builders. Which is why Facebook’s first piece of advice is simple–don’t hire them. How can you avoid it? Parikh suggests you use these questions when you interview:
“Describe your responsibilities as a leader.”
“Can you tell me about four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?”
“Describe a few of your peers at your company and what type of relationship you have with each of them.”
“What did you do on your very best day at work?”
“What does office politics mean to you, and do you see politics as your job?”
“Tell me about a project that you led that failed. Why did it fail and what did you learn?”
“Successful candidates should clearly demonstrate that their priorities are company, team, and self–in that order,” he explains.
2. Move the goal posts.
If you make getting into management the ultimate career prize, people will fight to get into management. But is that really where you want your people directing their energies? Probably not. Therefore, Facebook makes management a career option, not a status symbol.
“At Facebook, moving into management is not a promotion. It’s a lateral move, a parallel track. Managers are there to support people and to remove barriers to getting things done,” Parikh explains. “They are put in those positions because of their strong people skills.”
How do you keep your people keen if they’re not focused on earning a promotion to management? “You still have to provide a way for ICs [individual contributors] to have career challenges and growth opportunities outside of becoming managers. We provide different opportunities for growth by empowering employees to work on new projects or in new groups when interested,” Parikh says, explaining different ways the company has for employees to “broaden their areas of expertise and expand or focus their scope.”
3. Train managers to defuse politics.
“This may be the hardest thing to do, but it’s probably the most important,” says Parikh, who notes that employees often blame “politics” when they’re frustrated, even if politics isn’t really the problem. For instance, someone might think a decision didn’t go their way because of a personal rivalry when really the cause was insufficient resources or a change in strategy.
Managers need to nudge people to see things more clearly. How?
“When someone does cite politics as the cause of an issue, our managers dig in and try to find out what’s really going on. Simply asking, ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘Can you tell me about the specifics of the situation?’ is often a good place to start. We’ve found digging in and asking for specifics on what the person is seeing and feeling usually will help get to the root of the issue–and it’s usually not politics,” writes Parikh.