Cliques—tightknit groups within the primary team that engage in exclusivity by ostracizing those outside of their group—destroy teams from the inside out. They undermine culture, hurt morale, and cripple productivity.
But more than anything, cliques keep teams from performing at their optimum level.
Here are four ways to crush cliques:
1. Provide an Outlet to Vent
Frustration is one of the primary reasons why cliques form. People are frustrated with something that is happening on their team and they have a growing need to convey those frustrations. When they don’t have an avenue to do so, it can cause their frustrations to fester and trigger them to seek the solace of other malcontents.
By providing team members with an outlet to vent, you release the pressure brought on by their frustrations and eliminate the need for them to commiserate through unhealthy means. Care committees, suggestion boxes, discussions groups, or empathic ears can all serve this purpose.
2. Taboo Gossip
Assuming everyone on the team knows that gossip is detrimental to the team is a mistake. Assuming that everyone on the team knows the difference between gossip and venting is also a mistake.
Healthy venting creates awareness, releases stress, and can lead to solutions. Gossip—talking about a person who isn’t present—promotes toxicity, reduces inclusivity, and can lead to rumors.
Be proactive about letting others know that gossip is taboo on your team. Mention it during team meetings. Post signs reminding team members about it. Include it in your teams’ email signatures. Everyone on the team should realize that they are breaking a sacred team rule if they choose to gossip.
3. Steer the Socialization
According to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the typical person spends about fifty-two minutes per day gossiping. That same study revealed that not everything that was “gossiped” about was malicious.
Humans have an innate need to socialize, which makes gossip an instinctive practice. What is talked about around the water cooler doesn’t necessarily matter as much as the actual act of conversing. A CareerBuilder study showed that twenty percent of workers said they’ve done something they didn’t want to do, like gossiping, just to fit in with co-workers.
Team leaders can steer the socialization by offering a daily topic of discussion (Which fast food restaurant has the best French fries? What song had the biggest impact on the world? Who made the best Batman?) There’s only so much time available for gossip. You reduce the opportunity for poisonous discussions if you can monopolize that time with alternative topics.
Not all cliques are born from dissatisfaction. Sometimes people flock to familiarity (i.e., class, position, department, etc.)
In my book The WE Gear, I recount a story about an issue the Foster Grandparent Program was having with cliques. The source of their cliquey behavior wasn’t malcontent, it was comfort. These kindhearted seniors only wanted to work with those they already knew and felt comfortable around.
By cross-pollinating, intermixing individuals from different factions, you expand familiarity and create new comfort zones. You also strengthen team bonds.
I know of a leader who deliberately walks into team meetings late, just so she can rotate team members to different seats. Her practice exposes her staff to new ways of thinking, broadens connections, and diminishes cliques.
Whether you provide an outlet to vent, taboo gossip, steer socialization or cross-pollinate, know that your efforts to keep cliques from contaminating your team will always be a good teammate move on your part and edge your team closer to reaching its full potential.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.