Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

Are Virtual Office Politics Sabotaging Your Project? Part 2

by Susan Pomeroy

virtual office politics

Most virtual project teams work like a dream. Everyone’s doing what they like to do. People like and respect each other. The team enjoys the excitement of creating something new. There’s a synergy. There are all the benefits of working with a collaborative group (creativity, support, fun), and none of the drawbacks of working with others (having to actually go to the office, sit in a cube, deal with annoying coworkers, etc.).

And then there are the projects that don’t go well at all. The one where someone’s trying to sabotage you. Where you’re being micromanaged. Where, if you’re the person hiring everyone else, people are trying to inflate their hours or their egos, or produce poor quality work and are non-responsive to your needs, or your team won’t communicate with each other.

Then what? How can you avoid having your project sabotaged by virtual politics? I’m not a management consultant or an MBA. But here are some thoughts, based upon my own experience.

If You’re the Project Owner

You may be the project owner, but have little or no “management” experience. You like and trust the people working for you. Why else would you hire them? But if costs and timelines start to get out of hand, you might need to take drastic action. How can you prevent costly headaches from escalating?

1. Planning, planning, and planning. Either by one knowledgeable person in consultation with the others, or collaboratively. Planning allows timelines to be set, deliverables to be determined, costs to be estimated, and roles and contributions to be clarified. On the other hand, failure to plan allows competing agendas to flourish and time constraints to disappear. As a friend in the construction business once told me, “Remember the seven P’s… Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor production.”

2. Collaborative project management software is a tool to help get a handle on unwieldy projects and facilitate communication among participants. Opening 20 or 30 or 50 project-related emails a day, filing, tracking and organizing them, can be a real pain. Make things easier on everybody, and bring some transparency to the process. (Basecamp is a great software solution for small groups.)

3. Clear decision-making… who’s in charge? If it’s you, are you actually qualified, or is your insecurity causing you to micromanage? Are decisions made collaboratively, collectively, or by you, or one manager, or a point person? Clarify. Delegate. (Get some helpful hints here from management coach Steven Cerri.)

4. Are you paying by the hour? Again, with competing team members, this can backfire badly. Consider taking bids on the whole job.

5. Are you, or the project manager, losing touch with one or more team members? And—key question—are you at the same time being sucked up to by another team member? And does this person tend to complain about the others? This person may massage your ego ’til it purrs, but it’s bad news for your project. Get a clue: your project may be headed for 23 skidoo. Take the reins firmly now, or be prepared to spend a lot more time and money than you care to.

If You’re a Member of the Virtual Team

If, on the other hand, you’re a consultant or contractor who’s gotten embroiled in a “team” effort that’s turned into anything but, you can of course think about bowing out. But before you do that, here are some things to consider.

1. Are you being paid by the hour? Your colleagues as well? With a poorly matched team, this can be a recipe for disaster. Consider pointing out current cost and time overruns, and offering an aggressive bid on the whole job, by assembling your own team.

2. Are you an “expert,” or are you an “employee”? Is your opinion repeatedly ignored in the areas of your expertise? Are you getting squeezed out? Are you even becoming the project scapegoat? You’re probably the person who’s trying to keep your head down and get the job done without making waves. But if this is happening to you, you must confront the situation and if it cannot be resolved acceptably, withdraw from the project ASAP.

3. That back-bitingstabbing colleague? The one sucking up to the client…The one you finally figured out is trying to sabotage you? Confront her. Hard, fast, and at the earliest opportunity. Do it by phone, not email. Do not let her off the hook. (“Jane, yesterday you emailed Richard that you were having trouble with a video file because I hadn’t saved it properly. But that wasn’t true—the file was fine. I want to know what’s going on.”)

Don’t argue, don’t insult, but keep asking questions. “If you thought there was a problem with the file, why did you email Richard, instead of me?” The point is not to get an answer, an apology, or—above all—to become defensive yourself. The point is to let the person know that you’re willing to call them on their shit, and that you don’t mind making them uncomfortable when they overstep. Usually, the behavior changes. If it doesn’t, this person means problems, big-time. Being “nice” does not work with people like this.* Do you enjoy constant confrontation? If not, consider…

4. Getting out. If despite all of the above you’re second-guessing yourself, dreading your inbox and stewing over emails when you get them, hating the people you’re working with… I hate to say it, but getting out can be the wisest course.

The economy might be suffering… but that’s no reason to recreate the cubicle, or to suffer toxic people when you don’t have to. Within days after virtual office politics finally pushed me to let go of one of my “best” clients, inside of a week I had five new, interesting, well-paying projects…. with literally no effort on my part. I couldn’t even have considered them if I had still been busy with the difficult client. As a self-employed person, never feel that you have to stick with situations that are not working for you. They can cost you money. More importantly, they can cost you your peace of mind, your happiness, and even your health.

Read Part 1, “Are Virtual Office Politics Sabotaging Your Project” here.

* Note that I assume there is a “backbiting colleague,” or in other words, a suck-up. Someone who’s let their own fear, greed and anxiety get the best of them. That’s because in my experience of virtual teams that aren’t working, there always is at least one problem person—often, someone wanting to claim credit at others’ expense. People of good will working together generally manage to overcome inept planning, unexpected problems, and other natural glitches. But if these things aren’t being dealt with? If problems are multiplying rather than diminishing? You’ve probably got a bad apple. Bottom line: deal with it, get rid of it, or get out.

 Virtual Office Politics

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