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Cliques at the workplace

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We spend a major chunk of our functional time of a day at the workplace and try to seek opportunities for emotional support and career advancements due to our social and emotional instincts. This human nature of an individual pushes them to become a part of office cliques at the workplace. Here's a better look at cliques and how you can use them to your advantage and deal with them better

By Dr. Nidhi Maheswari (Asst. Prof, HR - OB), Asia Pacific Institute of Management New Delhi

The term ‘cliques’, remind us of school cafeteria life where informal groups and their leaders existed. These groups were formed around one or two influential individuals who were the decision makers for group activities. Similar kind of structures available at the workplace can be defined as cliques.
According to Oxford dictionary, cliques mean ‘a small group of people who spend time together and do not enthusiastically allow others to join them.’ The definition itself talks about the exclusive behavior of cliques. This behavior brings teams together but at the same time can also tear them apart. All sorts of clique behavior are not the contributing factors for the organizational growth.

Functional aspect of Cliques
Those group structures which are at the workplace enable employees to work effectively because of  strong bonding amongst the group members which comes under the functional category of cliques. The members of the functional cliques share all sorts of agenda and speak the same language and even share similar habits and hobbies.

Sometimes it is appealing for a new employee to join recognized cliques in order to create a network with stalwarts of the organization for career growth.  By joining such a group a message is conveyed that he/she is interested in performing and he is a team player. The clique membership helps him to identify the ladder through which success can be achieved by following easy steps. But we must remember that group think and group shifts are the two powerful demons of the spirit of the functional cliques. Due to which cliques can take the shape of gossiping groups, having nothing to do with organization work. So management should be careful in encouraging such structures.

Dysfunctional aspect of Cliques
Besides the team building spirit, cliques also promote fragmentation in the organization. Sometimes these structures act like sharks to the organizational work culture showing dysfunctional behavior like withholding information, delaying projects and gossiping. These dysfunctional cliques never care for tapping the skills and expertise of outsiders and in this way the organization will not be able to think beyond boundaries. Nurturing them does not allow the organization to attain varied perspective of an issue and in the long run the organization will have myopic vision.
Managing cliques at the workplace
To safeguard the organization from perspective myopia and exclusiveness of cliques, deliberate actions need to be taken by the organization. Management must avoid favouritism by providing verbal or non verbal cues. Green signals to fraternization, endorsement without taking the merit as a base should be avoided to boost the employee morale. Further, the more effective approach could be to examine the reasons of clique formations and then take  action to eliminate  dysfunctional cliquishness.

When  job cuts become visible or people who have worked in tandem for some projects in past, then  the probability of clique formation is natural. In such cases management should take managerial risks and should avoid stereotyping behavior while assigning projects and formulating the team.

Managers should pair new entrants with seasoned employees to avoid dysfunctional cliques. When the sufficient workloads and occupied workforce is there one can control rumors, bullying and behavior patterns which sometimes lean towards harrassing behaviour.

The management team should continuously maintain that the organization values diverse thoughts and everyone’s inputs are valuable. The Manager should always demonstrate that a broad productive justifiable representation is most often accepted rather than narrow representation of the cliques. It is always tempting to eliminate dysfunctional cliquishness for a manager to fully utilize the available skills and expertise of the organization but the management should also ensure that unconsciously they must not build platforms for dysfunctional cliques.

For this, management must avoid t favouritism byproviding verbal or non verbal cues, openly sanctioning  fraternization, not taking action for missed deadlines and should not endorse somebody when a more competent contributor exists.

If  dysfunctional cliques are not handled properly they can create an environment which will foster community and inclusiveness.

Though it may be a debatable conversation to have cliques or not but we must accept the challenge to nip the dysfunctional cliquishness in the bud and should take measures to address the situation in a timely manner.

 It is a call for organizational stakeholders to evaluate the consequences of the availability of cliques, to recognize the early signs of dysfunctional behavior of cliques which is and will critical to a team’s success.

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