To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a company divided against itself cannot stand. The foreshadowed collapse comes from office politics, a recurring concern for corporate leaders.
The essence of any organization is cooperation. Volunteers in non-profits cooperate to address social ills. Members of your community cooperate to achieve a peaceful coexistence. Most human achievements have happened via cooperation, not conflict. This includes the founding and growth of the organizations known as businesses.
The essence of politics, on the other hand, is conflict, the opposite of cooperation. In fact, one of the primary dictionary definitions of politics is the “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control.” Whereas organizations such as businesses form in order to focus a group effort toward a collaborative end, politics originate to channel power to one specific person or group of people. When an entrepreneur or an executive sees office politics, then they are losing their organization because cooperation is eroding.
Some argue that politics is an elaborate form of compromise, implying cooperation and collaboration. If so, someone should explain why the synonym in Washington, DC for “compromise” is “horse-trading,” the process of divvying-up power and money as opposed to finding consensus. Such horse-trading is quite the opposite of cooperation. Instead it is a sign that there is no collaboration, that warring parties are content with a negotiated and profitable stalemate.
At Micrel, the Silicon Valley semiconductor company I founded, cooperation was the norm. Our corporate culture was crafted to encourage people to help one another and to stay focused on our mission. By constantly promoting the company’s mission, and by encouraging employees to fill one another’s buckets—to help their coworkers as a matter of principle—we achieved amazing results.
In many companies an open-hire requisition (req) was a prized possession. Department managers need people, so an authorization to hire was a resource for better managing their departments and achieving their internal goals. But at Micrel, it was very common for one department manager to give an open req to another manager who was in a bind or who needed a hand in getting projects completed.
In these cases, employees within the company looked not at their own needs, but what needs within the entire company were most important. They cooperated to achieve a mutual goal, instead of individual goals. Our culture had no use for politics because we were too busy collaborating.
An executive’s or a manager’s job involves erasing lines between groups. The more lines that are erased, the more each employee can see and be involved in the big picture, the overarching objective of the company. I was fond of orchestrating across-boundary meetings, workshops, and employee exchanges to assure that everyone was at ease communicating to other groups, understood the issues facing other employees, and was always ready to roll up their sleeves to help the next person contribute to the common goal.
Be ever watchful for silos, for they breed the desire for politics. When you see politics, understand why an individual sees themselves or their team as more important than others. Above all, create a culture where people see the value they create within themselves and within others through cooperation.