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:
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talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends
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- Stonewalling: II
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- How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
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- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
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Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.