Politics in Virtual Workplace

Politics is an inevitable phenomenon faced by the employees in any workplace - virtual or collocated. The personal agenda of individuals in terms of career aspirations and motivations to work as well as organizational culture are the key determinants of workplace politics. Political processes can be either overt where the organizational hierarchy is rigid or covert in less bureaucratic organizations. Overt or covert, both types of political processes are detrimental to the organizational health.

Members of virtual teams adopt different influence tactics to impact team decisions. Influence tactics adopted by virtual team members affect:

  • How decisions are being made
  • Execution of strategies and policies
  • Team members’ motivation and commitment
  • Cooperation and collaboration levels among team members

All this have direct impact on the productivity and effectiveness of global virtual team. Therefore, it is one of the most important responsibilities of virtual team leader to understand as well as manage politics in the virtual workspace.

There are different types of influence tactics such as assertiveness, rational persuasion, consultation, pressure, blocking, upward appeal etc. exhibited by the members during their interactions with others. Following four factors largely determine the intensity and choice of influence tactics by the virtual team members:

  1. Limited Familiarity: Since in global virtual teams, members come from different cultures and backgrounds, they experience difficulty in understanding the behavioral norms as well as communication patterns of the members of other cultures. In order to avoid any undesirable situations and misunderstandings, people resort to softer, socially acceptable and more effective influence tactics such as persuasion and consultation.

  2. More Task Focus: Unlike collocated teams, using communication technologies members of virtual teams interact in a limited time with discussion more centered on tasks and milestones. This leaves very little time to talk about the social aspects. Due to the lack of informal interactions, members get no time to indulge in any kind of workplace politics.

  3. Less Team Involvement: The members of virtual teams are less involved at emotional level. Therefore, they do not put in much effort to influence each other and find internal politics unattractive.

Thus we see virtual teams witness less intense and interpersonal means of influencing rather than unhealthy competitive ones. An exception to this rule occurs when members of same geographical area form coalition and hold discussion outside the formal group interactions.

Though virtual team members experience politics but in a comparatively subtle way. In fact, virtual team leaders can minimize any signs of politics by establishing flatter hierarchy and promoting cultural sensitivity. Thus we see the basic characteristics of global virtual teams like multicultural, physical distance and constrained communication keep the emergence of team politics under control.

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