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How Facebook Tries to Prevent Office Politics

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Jay Parikh

When personal motivations trump company goals, it can hinder a company’s ability to get things done. Since our earliest days at Facebook, we’ve been mindful about not letting office maneuvering poison work life. We’d seen the negative effects that certain kinds of political behavior can have when they creep into office life, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t let them creep into ours.

We’re not so naive as to think we can change human nature altogether; where there are humans, there will be feelings to consider, and politics will crop up. But when we approach our interactions thoughtfully, a company’s culture can be a powerful antibody against destructive office politics.

We’ve found five tactics especially useful in our effort to keep our company culture healthy and productive.

Look for empire builders, self-servers, and whiners in the hiring process — and don’t hire them. All companies screen candidates for skill sets and experience. Everyone wants to hire the best and smartest people they can find. We add additional criteria, screening for the ability to calibrate to a team environment. We use prompts such as:

  • “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?”

Questions like these are meant to get the discussion started and allow the interviewer to ask follow-up questions. Successful candidates should clearly demonstrate that their priorities are company, team, and self — in that order. This makes it more likely that they’ll put the company’s mission above their individual interests and that they’ll set the proper example for others.

Take the incentive out of “climbing the ladder.” People don’t fight for management roles as much when management is not an end goal. Most people think “success” happens when you get the big job with the big title — that you’re not growing unless you’re moving up. 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. Managers focus on building a great team, creating a vision for how that team will execute its goals, and helping the people on that team develop in their careers. They are put in those positions because of their strong people skills. They aren’t there to tell teams what to do. This viewpoint has become so effective that some managers at our company have even gone so far as to stop saying things like “my team,” instead opting for things like “the team I support.”

People not familiar with this strategy might ask, “Then who is in charge?” Lest anyone think it’s a Lord of the Flies scenario, our managers still moderate, facilitate, and tie-break. But the notion that our individual contributors (ICs) shouldn’t own strategy doesn’t hold water. If you’ve hired right, your ICs should be your best minds for informing team goals and direction. (As an added bonus, your ICs are much more likely to execute effectively when the idea was theirs to begin with.)

Of course, you still have to provide a way for ICs 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. This keeps ICs engaged by allowing them to broaden their areas of expertise and expand or focus their scope by moving to projects at different levels of development. If a short-term break is called for, rather than a complete switch, we have something we call “hackamonth,” where ICs can take a month to help another team on a specific project. This freedom of movement helps keep mold from growing on our teams, and it helps keep talent at the company. After all, if you don’t keep challenging talented people to grow, they will look for new opportunities outside your company.

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