Virtual teams can face a variety of disadvantages. Some are familiar: they might be geographically dispersed, their members might speak different languages, and they might observe a mixture of holidays.
Among the most daunting challenges is the interplay between communication and politics. Here is Part I of a set of common communication traps that relate to politics in virtual teams and organizations.
- Information hoarding
- Information hoarding is keeping to oneself, or to a close group of allies, any information deemed valuable with respect to the work in progress, the processes in use, or group politics. Example: withholding from a rival important information about volunteering for a desirable task. Another example: a department head withholding from an out-of-favor subordinate procedural changes for proposing new projects.
- In co-located organizations, word travels more quickly and easily than it does in virtual organizations. Information hoarding might be practiced in both organizational structures, but it's far more effective in virtual organizations.
- Team leads can control information hoarding by monitoring communications and by increasing face-to-face contact. Team members can increase their own situational awareness by building and maintaining close, trusting relationships with other team members, wherever they're located.
- Enhanced effectiveness of "spin"
- The term spin denotes the practice of shading the truth when describing a condition, result, action, or person. For example, when a particular activity has failed utterly, we might report, "It isn't working yet." Spin-based descriptions are usually literally true, while concealing something important, usually to mislead the listener.
- In co-located organizations, truth propagates rapidly enough to enable most of the population to detect spin.
- When truth propagates from person to person, it tends to mutate more slowly than spin does. That's one way team leads and team members can detect spin — by comparing the information they get from multiple sources via multiple paths.
- Lack of a transcript
- Many communications Team leads can control
information hoarding by
and by increasing
face-to-face contactwithin virtual teams take place in media that lack permanent records of message traffic. Even in email, finding exactly what someone said can be difficult. Lack of transcripts enables those so inclined to remember things the way they wish they had occurred, or to blatantly manufacture history.
- Although this occurs in most teams, virtual teams are more likely than co-located teams to be misled, because fewer people remember the truth. There are fewer people who recall the truth because the body of available witnesses is dispersed. They don't know what happened, because they weren't there.
- In controversy, or when controversy looms, keep a journal of what's said — when, where, and by whom. Do your best to create a transcript. It won't be serviceable as evidence, but it might be useful for refreshing your own memory, and for generating questions and observations that will help in group discussions.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
- Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status —
they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of
doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics
and strategies for dealing with pressure.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- How to Stop Being Overworked: II
- Although many of us are overloaded as a result of our own choices, some are overloaded by abusive supervisors.
If you find yourself in that situation, what can you do?
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: I
- Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the
organization. What are the dangers?
- Covert Obstruction in Teams: I
- Some organizational initiatives are funded and progressing, despite opposition. They continue to confront
attempts to deprive them of resources or to limit their progress. When team members covertly obstruct
progress, what techniques do they use?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
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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.