Marginalisation is an issue which reaches across much of modern society, individuals and groups are intentionally or unintentionally excluded from discussions or participation for any number of reasons. In workplaces it is not uncommon for individuals to feel marginalised and excluded from discussions in their offices and social settings whether they are co-located or part of a virtual or distributed team. Despite all of the efforts of an organisation to ensure an inclusive working environment employees still can be marginalised due to rosters, vacations, specific task allocation that separates them physically or intellectually from their colleagues.
Within a virtual environment, where individuals and groups are working remotely from each other the risks of marginalisation are even stronger simply due to the physical distance. The impact of actual or perceived marginalisation on the effectiveness of a virtual team can be quite hard to gauge but can have a deep impact on the outcomes of the work being undertaken.
At its simplest level, marginalisation can lead to groups going off in different directions with their work, all genuinely believing they are doing what is needed for the overall success of their project but in reality their efforts may be wasted, and in being misaligned through marginalisation, their misdirected efforts will cost the organisation both time and money to correct.
At its most extreme, marginalised workers may start to actively undermine the endeavours of their employing organisation as a form of rebellion to the perception of being marginalised. They feel excluded from the main group on the project, and every little rumour and piece of news serves to feed their frustration. In these extreme situations the project can suffer severe loss of efficiency, costs may start to get out of control and schedules are extremely hard to maintain.
Avoiding marginalisation in your teams
Actively working to treat all individuals and groups on your project equally, regardless of their geographic location is absolutely key to avoiding the perception of marginalisation. While this sounds like an obvious statement, the reality of implementing it can be challenging since the leadership of the project will be more visible to those they are co-located with, leading to the potential of communicating more openly and freely with their local personnel and on occasion forgetting those located remotely.
To overcome this, managers need to actively consider how the things they say and do in one location will be heard and understood in the other locations, and to take positive steps to visit and spend time with the other locations on as frequent and fair a schedule as possible. This requirement to travel then introduces other issues to projects, issues of travel cost and the time of the project leaders. Travel budgets are often restricted and, if not properly considered and estimated at the outset, un could then lead to an inability of the leadership to make the numbers of trips needed to maintain the relationships with their personnel.
Likewise, the time available for most managers to spend traveling to, and spending time in each of their project locations can be limited and can also place stresses on their personal and working lives, these pressures must be managed carefully to avoid the managers themselves becoming victims to the pressures of their project, travel can be shared amongst executive leadership groups to allow a balanced level of workload. However, the travel needs, both budgetary and time away from home base need to be considered and appropriately budgeted through all stages of a project.
Share your experiences
Have you thoughts on the impact of marginalisation in a virtual team environment you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, 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 help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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