The consulting firm of BBK&M is just a baby company.

In fact, it's so young the four partners still have their day jobs and get together only once a week to work on the company's future. Their weekly agenda is circulated by e-mail.You wouldn't think they could have problems with office politics but Nathan Hatch says he was amazed when Grass Consulting of Orem came in and did their thing.

Grass Consulting identified potential problems and pitfalls that could have become major difficulties for the four partners who come from diverse cultural backgrounds, Hatch said.

"We have two from around here, one from Venezuela and one from Ireland," Hatch explained.

"One is a computer scientist with an MBA, one has his MBA in finance and two of us have marketing backgrounds. Combine that with the cultural mix and we have the potential for some interesting controversy."

In fact, right away, it became apparent that the partner from Venezuela had some expectations and frustrations the other partners were unaware of.

"It's been really enlightening," said Hatch. "In our case, it's probably a little like premarital counseling but the nice thing is, the techniques would be adaptable to anyone and everyone."

The most important part of the exercise is getting the chance to bring up issues at all, he said. "Once an issue is laid on the table, then we can talk about it."

That's basically what David L. Green, chairman and author of Grass Consulting, developer of "Managing Workplace Politics Training" workshops, says they do.

They bring workplace politics and the nuances involved out into the open.

" `Managing Workplace Politics Training' focuses on the complex people problems that prevent us from focusing on our jobs," Green said. "This topic is especially effective for organizations experiencing mergers, downsizing, uncontrolled growth, and other related pressures.

"It can be taught either horizontally in an organization to peers, or vertically to functioning teams or departments."

For about $300 a person, Green will come in and teach employees and managers what kinds of negative office politics exist and help them understand how destructive they can be.

As a facilitator, he can show business leaders how to deal with problems with sensitivity and replace negatives with positives.

"We don't expect to go in and overnight change the corporate culture," Green said.

"First, we have to make people aware of the problems and concerns. Secondly, we get everyone together and talk and give them the tools to deal with the problems."

A facilitator can help provide a safe place for candid discussion, he said. "This is very, very difficult to approach. You must be very direct and very strong. We're going places that can be painful."

Problems in the office can range from dealing with employees with a hidden agenda or an inflated ego to a failure on management's part to communicate with lower levels.

Ninety-five percent of the problems are personality conflicts and/or generational differences that people can be taught to tolerate and address effectively, Green said.

Once a company has undergone the workshop training, Green can come back in with customized backup coaching as needed.

Whatever it takes, he feels his consulting company can provide help.

He's dealt with office politics first- and secondhand as his own tiny company, Allbee Green Associates, formed after Green left WordPerfect, worked through its infancy, growing from five employees to 25.

He remembers well some of the problems he and his peers encountered as WordPerfect grew.

And, in fact, he's currently writing a book on workplace politics with a chapter based on some of what he watched occur at WordPerfect. The local software company rose and fell as a classic example of what can happen without adequate management of workplace politics, Green said.

"Three years ago, we got into it. I, as a managing partner here, needed to know how to give employees dignity, respect and reward. How do you invite them in? I found it very different being the boss after being an employee of a corporation. I had to go to work to try and avoid making the same mistakes I knew I saw as an employee."

Green was surprised to find almost nothing written or available dealing with office politics, especially since the problems are largely universal.

"I went to ground zero to build what we now have. I've got a foot in both camps," he said.

"We draw from our own experience but we also include a lot of the Franklin Covey stuff, some ideas from empowerment gurus. We're open to using whatever works to alleviate a stressful workplace situation. We see our job as that of diagnosis and discovery."

It's also one of establishing resolutions and managing or preventing repercussions once a staff has opened up to speak candidly.

"Hey, we're going places that can be painful. We go in, throw out a topic. Who isn't happy? What about profits?" he said. "We deal with specifics. We can come in and show companies how to cut time loss. We can show up needs. Sometimes we actually point fingers but we also set up safety valves for people, give them the opportunity to simply be validated. We teach alternative approaches, teach them to deflect and defer."

The workshop training is not for every company, because some company leaders want to maintain a dictatorship-style management.

"For those interested in improving the quality of the workplace life, this is a good idea," Green said. "Our target audience is absolutely everybody. We're getting the word out: Politics is an issue."

Green launched the workshop training program concept at the American Society of Training and Development Conference in San Francisco in June.

"People who were introduced to the program there told us this is something they'd been looking for, for years."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Quiz

How can you determine the level of workplace politics in your organization? Take this test. It's a sample of the questions you'll be asked in a Managing Workplace Politics Workshop.

Answer each question with a 1 for "strongly agree," a 2 for "agree," a 3 for "neither agree or disagree," a 4 for "disagree," or a 5 for "strongly disagree."

1. When an organizational breakdown occurs, there is communication from within my organization from top to bottom until the problem is diagnosed and solved.

2. There is a clear focus and mission statement understood and supported by the employees.

3. People communicate honestly, openly and often where I work.

4. I have official and unofficial channels to go for help when I'm in over my head.

5. I feel like I have the information I need to make informed decisions about my job.

6. I don't have to waste a lot of time waiting for approval or direction on projects.

7. When a problem is called to the attention of management, it gets resolved, not escalated.

8. It's clear who reports to whom, and who is responsible for what.

9. We're continually improving our processes by learning from our mistakes.

10. There are good working relationships between different departments and divisions at my organization.

11. Because our organization feels like it is important to stay ahead of things, I don't waste a lot of time "putting out fires" on unreasonable or unexpected incidents.

12. I look forward to going to work.

Add up the score and divide by 12. If you score 1.5 or below, you seem to have workplace politics under control. If you're between 1.6 and 1.9, you organization has some work to do.

If the score is between 2 and 2.9, there are things that need attention to prevent the situation from getting worse. From 3 to 3.5, you need to take immediate action.

Above 3.5? You're in a hotbed of political activity.