Corporate politics are a fact of life in all businesses. Love them or hate them, corporate politics is something you at least need to understand to be able to work effectively. Beyond that, to work effectively in a virtual team, you need to understand the politics of the organisation as a whole, along with that of each office.
At the heart of most politics lies power. The quest for power by individuals and groups and then the wielding of that power to achieve an end. In public politics, the quest for power is to achieve the ambitions of one or another group, whether for the benefit of a large or small part of the population or to pursue the ideals of some who believe those ideals will be to the greater good of the rest of the population. Corporate politics are not that different, individuals and groups will jockey for power and authority, both actual and implied, then use that power either for personal gain or the benefit of their faction.
Home Office Politics
Each office will have its own formal and informal power structure, whether it be clerical personnel withholding access to certain key staff, senior employees supporting favourites, managers employing family members or some groups of employees discriminating against others for any number of reasons, corporate politics is always present if often hidden from view. To be successful in an organisation it is not always necessary to directly engage in corporate politics, but it is essential to understand how things work so that you can avoid the major traps. This understanding is usually only gained over time, through observation and experiences such as the results of upsetting one faction or another.
Once you have recognised the formal and informal power structures that contribute to and support the corporate politics in an office, working life can become easier since you will then know who to talk to outside of the formal structure to get things expedited, and equally who not to rely on.
Inter Office Corporate Politics
Corporate politics between offices are typically a result of one of a few of factors coming into play. The reward structure within the organisation may bias the way one office behaves toward another, there may be an overlap in either territory, product line or client base that leads to direct competition between offices or there may be a group in one location that believes they should have formal authority over some personnel in another location but that authority is not in place. All of these situations will lead to direct and indirect tension and political manoeuvrings between staff in different offices, and most can be resolved by some careful management actions.
If an organisation genuinely believes in a virtual team approach, they must ensure that the reward structure and processes in the business reflect this, and that management and personnel are rewarded for their contribution to the whole organisation not simply to the interests of their own office. It is of little benefit to the organisation to reward the performance of one office as a discreet unit if, to achieve that performance, the office compromised the efforts of another office.
Care must also be taken to manage overlap of any kind between groups and offices, and appropriate structural changes put in place. Likewise, competing teams should be evaluated and any structural changes enacted to remove or at the least alleviate the conflict. Any other forms of potentially destructive inter office rivalry should also be carefully monitored for and managed as and when it is found.
Virtual Team Corporate Politics
Most of the corporate politics experienced in traditional office structures will also occur in virtual teams, there are also some added potential issues that derive from the usually temporary nature of a virtual team. Some of the additional issues can come from issues such as time pressures to deliver work, where one office relies on another to complete its work before the other can complete its, this tension can convert into rivalry or hostility if one office feels they are being put at risk of failure by the performance of the other.
Tensions can arise over temporal and linguistic differences, leading to a communication disconnect between locations in the virtual team, these issues can quickly escalate into out and out rivalry. This potential rivalry is something management needs to be extremely vigilant for. Also, some members of a virtual team may feel their long term future is under threat by the virtualisation of work, these individuals may, in extreme cases, actively engage in corporate politics to undermine the future of the venture.
Managing Virtual Team Corporate Politics
As can be seen from the discussion above, corporate politics can be a major influencer in the outcomes and viability of a virtual team organisation, with careful management the risks of corporate politics can be mitigated but never completely removed. Managers need to be continually vigilant for issues arising and prepared to act appropriately to address the underlying problems.
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations establish and run high performing virtual teams, we combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can assist your business.
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