Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 22;   June 2, 2010: Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II

Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II

by

Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
A fiddler crab, resident of the Ashepoo Combahee Edisto (ACE) Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve in South Carolina, USA

A fiddler crab, of species Uca pugnax, resident of the Ashepoo Combahee Edisto (ACE) Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve in South Carolina, USA. Males use their one outsized claw in courtship and in fighting other males. In some species, when a male loses this claw, it regenerates, but the regenerated claw is less massive than the original, both in shell and muscle. Although regenerated claws are weaker, they do deceive females and other males. This phenomenon is known as dishonest signaling. In natural populations of Uca annulipes, as many as 44% of males possess regenerated claws. See P.R.Y. Backwell, et. al., "Dishonest signaling in a fiddler crab," Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2000) 267, 719-724.

In virtual teams, as described in this article, some people undertake deception by means of dishonest signaling. They conceal problems in their areas of responsibility, or they misstate the views of the subteams they represent. In some cases, this dishonest signaling might be helpful, while in others it is decidedly unhelpful. The study of organizational dishonesty is beginning to progress. See, for example, Cialdini, R. B., P. K. Petrova and N. Goldstein, "The hidden cost of organizational dishonesty," MIT Sloan Management Review (Spring 2004): 67-73. I'm unaware of any studies of dishonest signaling in virtual teams specifically, but I'm willing to assume that it is more malignant than benign. Photo courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Members of virtual teams see each other less often than do members of co-located teams. Often, they don't know each other as well, and they face numerous challenges in building and maintaining trust. These factors make virtual teams vulnerable to the tactics of political operators. Here's Part II of a catalog of those vulnerabilities. See "Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I," Point Lookout for May 26, 2010, for more.

The unfair advantages of image management
Image management is the practice of managing perceptions of a policy, a system, an effort, a person, or just about anything else. When someone realizes that others' perceptions don't align with what he or she would wish, deceptions are available to bring about a more desirable alignment. These steps include spin, omissions, inappropriate emphasis, delays in disclosure, obstructions of various kinds, and simple lies.
In co-located teams, such deceptive methods are risky, because the audience usually has independent information sources, beyond the reach of image managers. In the co-located environment, another challenge for the aspiring image manager is frequency of refresh: the co-located audience can obtain independent information much more frequently than the virtual audience can. Thus, effective co-located image management requires continuous effort and considerable dedication. In the virtual environment, the image manager can be much more effective with a lot less effort.
To counter these deceptions, begin by identifying anyone who might be engaged in image management. Usually, image management creates counter-action from those who feel that the image manager is unfairly characterizing them or their work. Private conversations with those involved are often helpful in determining what's really happening.
The effect of mis-speaking on others' behalf
In virtual teams, more often than in co-located teams, occasions arise in which one person relays or represents the views of another, or the views of a group. This happens because the team is dispersed geographically, or because the limitations of telephone or video constrain the number of people who can participate in discussions. In co-located teams, groups do
send delegates to meetings, but
the temptation to misrepresent
is less intense than
in virtual teams
Sometimes such representatives of others are tempted to misrepresent the views of those they represent. The misrepresentation can be subtle and almost innocent, or it can be blatant, but in any case it can create problems.
In co-located teams, groups do send delegates to meetings, but the temptation to misrepresent is less intense, because the loop back from the audience of the misrepresenter to the people being misrepresented is more likely to close. When it does, misrepresentations become obvious, and misrepresenters pay a high price.
Virtual teams can gain control over such misrepresentations by recording meetings and distributing the recordings, or by including in meeting minutes not only the usual decisions and actions items, but also any representations made by those in attendance. Either technique helps achieve the "closed loop" that deters misrepresentation in co-located teams.

To decrease vulnerability, virtual teams must enhance connections between their members, which requires time and resources, and — most important — conscious, purposeful attention. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Stalking the Elephant in the Room: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXXPPLnpyHOiUsQJdner@ChacNkRCofpUSWPUqzPIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran ConferenceHostile Collaborations
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?
Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. EisenhowerWhen You're the Least of the Best: II
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Abraham Lincoln as a young man about to become a candidate for U.S. SenateWorkplace Politics and Integrity
Some see workplace politics and integrity as inherently opposed. One can participate in politics, or one can have integrity — not both. This belief is a dangerous delusion.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternWorkplace Anti-Patterns
We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
A diagrammatic representation of the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Boston HarborProblem Displacement and Technical Debt
The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another. It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?

See also Workplace Politics, Project Management and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenpXXiEnOtbKInmPMTner@ChacJjATjnDTdzfSGNHBoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.