How to Handle Cliques and Groups at Work

Groups that work well are an important component of the workplace. Often, nothing is more satisfying from a managerial perspective than the positive energy of a group accomplishing goals. On the other hand, when employees join forces against each other, spread rumors, make false assumptions, and gossip, these actions can deplete morale and breed conflict.

Cliques form at work for a number of reasons, including shared interests, similar personalities, or proximity in working environments. Whatever the motivation employees have for attaching themselves to co-workers, the attachment has both positive and negative repercussions.

Be aware of your own actions regarding cliques. As a manager, you walk a fine line when it comes to the strategic and social aspects of your job. If you’re one of the players on the firm’s basketball team, make sure discussions about last night’s game include those around you, not just the other players. Asking what someone’s experience is with the sport or limiting the conversation to a few highlights and moving on to another topic models appropriate attitudes and behavior toward social groups and cliques.

Focusing on the positive

If you’re experiencing some negative fallout from a particular group, keep in mind that cliques aren’t all bad. Groups can offer a lot to each other and the organization. Consider the following:

  • Cliques have power to get the job done. There’s safety in numbers, and cliques can have a lot of power, even if each member has little to no power in the company as an individual.

  • Cliques play an integral part in team morale and create a sense of camaraderie that’s difficult for even the most adept manager to replicate.

  • Cliques can create a sense of safety and inclusion for their members, cultivating a multitude of positive experiences and workplace memories for employees.

  • Cliques can work across departments and accomplish just about any task. When personal relationships transcend company org charts, the give and take works for the benefit of the organization.

  • Cliques offer social benefits. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group that offers them pats on the back and social invitations and reminds them that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves?

Understanding the negative

You know what’s right for your situation, but consider intervening when

  • Cliques are purposefully alienating others.

  • Groups are closed to any perspectives other than their own.

  • People are missing out on opportunities to expand their careers or view of the company.

  • Alienation is causing employees to shut down and not perform to the best of their abilities.

  • Bullying or inappropriate language and behaviors emerge.

Preventing the formation of negative groups in the first place is the preferred course of action. Encourage open communication and conflict resolution among all your staff. Be upfront about how you want everyone to resolve even minor disagreements among one another early on, instead of prolonging the dispute or going to others for coalition-building. Consider providing training on communication or conflict resolution as a way to demonstrate your support for early intervention.

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