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 teamsSometimes 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 Top Next Issue
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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.