Dear Daily Slog,
“I am struggling to deal with the office politics at my company. Within my team there is a friendship between a group of people and anyone outside of that is derided, talked about behind their backs and just not invited to things like lunch outings or Friday drinks.”
“It’s not that I want to be more involved with this group of people – I would rather avoid them – it’s more that I’m tired of dealing with the constant talking about people behind their backs and feeling on edge.”
“Any advice would be welcome.”
Thank you very much for your email.
It is normal to build relationships, even friendships sometimes, in the work place. As human beings we like to be part of a group, where we feel more secure, can socialise a bit and share certain values, interests or hobbies.
Being part of such a group or team in the workplace can make our work more enjoyable, it can even add to our productivity and very importantly: it is no harm to others.
What you describe is different. The formation of a clique within the team has a negative impact on those outside as they feel they are being derided and talked about behind their backs. This certainly does not add to a positive work environment in which people can thrive and be productive.
Research has shown that cliques in the work place emerge where there is lack of organisation, strategy and leadership.
On the contrary – where cliques form the environment can become toxic, people get distracted from their work and ultimately company goals are at risk.
Research has shown that often cliques in the work place emerge where there is lack of organisation, strategy and leadership. A clique can emerge to fill a vacuum that has been left by management.
Where management is able to communicate company values and lead by example, employees are more likely to engage with those values and share them. Where management is able to communicate a clear strategy and set clear goals, employees will work better as a team to achieve those shared goals.
As a consequence, the vacuum that is left for a clique to promote their own goals or values within their exclusive circle is minimised and there is little need or benefit in entering into it.
Management may have unintentionally contributed to the building of a clique or cliques in the first place.
For reasons outlined above, to my mind, employees should not be left alone to deal with cliques in their work environment as it is mainly a management issue and should be perceived by management as such:
a) Management is responsible for achieving the company goals, which are at risk where cliques becoming too strong and disruptive
b) Management may have unintentionally contributed to the building of a clique or cliques in the first place and;
c) It can be difficult to change the situation for a single employee or even group of employees if there is no guidance and support from the management with this.
So, my first recommendation on how to deal with this clique in your work, is to analyse for yourself, where your company stands in regards to the above.
What do you think about your management team? Are there clear goals in your company and are the values and strategies communicated clearly? Are the majority of your colleagues behind those goals?
Does management have an open ear for their employees? Is there even someone in management or HR you could bring this issue up with, or would you not trust them with it?
By becoming part of a clique you are limiting your contacts and network unnecessarily which can be very harmful to your career.
Let me be clear, whether or not you want to address the issue within your company is entirely up to you. Follow your instinct. If you feel uncomfortable with it or if you cannot come up with someone you would trust to discuss the issue with, then it might be better you don’t.
Whether you address it or not – it will not change overnight, so you will still have to develop your own strategy to deal with the clique and your feelings about it.
You have already said that you have no desire to be more involved with this group of people and you are totally right.
For starters, if you are involved too much with this group, the risk is that eventually you will be noticed more for your involvement than you are for your actual work, which is not desirable.
Be polite and professional, even if they are not, and bear in mind, that mostly the clique or their members have no “real” power in the organisation.
Second, in contrast to a team or a group of colleagues, cliques tend to exclude others. As a consequence they tend to be disliked by others. By becoming part of a clique you are limiting your contacts and network unnecessarily which can be very harmful to your career.
And lastly, as outlined above – if your management understands the negative impact of a clique in the work place, they will not be happy with it, and that will again have a negative impact on your career, if you are part of one.
So, yes, you are best off to stay out of this circle – but at the same time, they are still members of your team and you will have to work with them, sometimes will even need their input or knowledge.
There are plenty of other people in the team and the wider company you can build constructive and productive work relations with.
You want to show professionalism, and part of that is to get on with your colleagues (including the clique) at least on a professional level.
So be polite and professional, even if they are not, and bear in mind, that mostly the clique or their members have no “real” power in the organisation. With this in mind be sure not to be or appear intimidated. You have a lot to show relating to your work, and also there are plenty of other people in the team and the wider company you can build constructive and productive work relations with (and perhaps share a coffee or a chat with).
In a nutshell, I believe the key to successfully dealing with a clique is:
- Understand the context – who is the clique, how does it fit into the organisational context? What power do they really have, if any.
- Address the issue, if appropriate, and if you can expect a positive outcome.
- Ensure you are known for who you are and what you have achieved and not for who you are with.
- Be polite and friendly, but do not let the clique intimidate you.
- Avoid gossip and stick to the facts.
- Build constructive and productive relationships and networks.
- Lead by example – do not exclude others and focus on the work and goals at hand.
There is a good chance the issue can be tackled and the clique might dissolve or become less disruptive or dominant over time. Or you might simply be less bothered by them as you understand that they actually have no real power whatsoever.
But if you feel the whole organisation or company culture actually fosters the development of cliques and excluding behaviour, then it might be worth thinking about changing your work environment or organisation.
In that case, do not feel like you have given up or in.
Make it clear to yourself that you have identified a toxic atmosphere that you do not wish to be exposed to any longer. It is an active decision and far from surrender, so if you need a break or change, it might be worth considering it!
I hope my reply was helpful to you!
All the best,
Some more great career advice from Ines:
About the Author
Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin. To book an appointment contact her on 087 414948 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have a career issue you would like help with, email the details to us at email@example.com and we will source a suitable professional to help. All correspondence will be kept confidential.