Unless you were homeschooled or you got your education purely through online avenues, chances are good that you encountered cliques in school. You know the ones I’m talking about: the popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, the stoners, the class clowns, and so on. You’ve likely run into several of these groups if not more.
But you’re an adult now, right? You’ve done your time, paid your dues, and the real world doesn’t have such silly notions of segregation based on something as simple as hobbies or the classes you take. Right?
If you’ve worked anywhere for more than a week, chances are good you’ve spotted the cliques. Susan and her four friends get by with everything, probably because Susan is the favorite. Jimmy is constantly getting yelled at by his boss and looked down on by his co-workers — he doesn’t fit in, so he’s an easy target. Not to mention the whole accounting department seems to want to burn down the IT department. Then you have Margret, the front desk receptionist who seems to know everything about everyone and is more than willing to spread it around for just a little bit of praise.
These examples probably resemble people you’ve worked with. (There are even YouTube videos about “The Six Coworkers You’ll Have at Your Job” and “The 8 Types Of Bosses Everyone Has Had” — that’s how predictable people can be.)
Cliques are almost guaranteed to form in a place of business. So now what?
Keep in mind that not all communities are cliques.
Communities can enhance the workplace by providing cultural enrichment, alliances (such as groups for women or minorities), teamwork, morale boosters, a sense of camaraderie, and the power to get work done across departments (assuming the community extends across departments).
You’re not worried about communities, though. It’s the cliques you have to watch out for.
Understand what a clique is and the negative impact it can have on your company.
Cliques are identifiable by certain trademarks: They have strict barriers or hindrances to becoming a part of the group, and they also frequently have codes of membership and participation. When a member goes against those social restrictions, they’ll typically end up on the “outside” of the clique.
When cliques form in the workplace, they can be dangerously bad for productivity. Diversity spirals down because groups aren’t willing to let “outsiders” in, nor hear their opinions. This leads to groupthink, or mob mentality — everyone agrees with an idea, even if it’s a bad one. Then next thing you know, your business is trying to pitch an app that tells you if your eggs are white or brown — real winner, guys.
Cliques can also quickly become toxic. (Ever seen the movie Mean Girls?) A whole group of people can turn on another, brewing negativity and discontent. Suddenly the new girl isn’t liked, or an old co-worker quits because of the toxic environment. Perhaps at some point in your life, you had a job you enjoyed doing, but it still sucked because you couldn’t stand your co-workers. A “clique” can even be a situation where the higher ups have an obvious favorite, which brews resentment. If it’s too obvious of a favorite, then suddenly the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or EEOC) is knocking on your company door and man, that’s awkward.
So, how do you solve the problem of cliques?
Here are a few tips, tricks, and ideas to prevent and manage cliques!
- Identifying cliques: Before you can address cliques, you need to identify the ones that exist around you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are there groups in your workplace that exclude you or other people unnecessarily?
- Are you a part of a group that is unnecessarily exclusionary?
- Who’s a part of these exclusive groups, and why have they formed? Are they negative cliques?
- Creating a team environment: Put co-workers from different areas together regularly! BitLoft recently implemented Lunch Buddies, a program that pairs you with a random co-worker to go have lunch with and learn about. Who doesn’t like free food?! Pro tip: If your company uses Slack, you can automate the pairing by using an app. BitLoft uses Donut to match two random team members on a regular basis.
- Providing cross-training: Training can be a great equalizer. When everyone is learning something new together and trying to overcome that challenge, you can blur or completely erase the lines between departments
- Ending favoritism/isolation: Have you noticed someone getting all the attention, or none at all? Bring it up to a manager with feedback. Also, if you have the power to acknowledge or support someone who is not receiving deserved attention, why not give that person a shout out?
- Engaging team members in team-building activities: The closer the team is, the less chance there is of someone being left out. You’d be surprised how much camaraderie can result from an Escape Room or a team obstacle course.
- Increasing awareness: See something, say something. If you let employees or teammates know there’s an issue, they can implement self-monitoring.
That’s all from me! I hope this little blurb has helped you out.
Jessica Thomas is a Human Resources Specialist at BitLoft.