Cliques and Exclusionary Behavior in the Workplace

Reviewed Mar 7, 2017

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Summary

  • Recognize toxic behaviors and intervene early.
  • Be clear, consistent and direct.
  • Promote a cohesive team environment.

The workplace is filled with opportunities to build networks that foster career advancement and develop social connections that provide emotional support. Among these networks, cliques can develop. As a manager, how you model appropriate boundaries, embrace diversity, and recognize the early signs of toxic clique behaviors can be critical to a team’s success.

Cohesive vs. toxic cliques

While cohesive cliques boost morale and foster team camaraderie, toxic cliques breed workplace conflict and exclusionary behaviors. This leads to distrust among employees and frequent team in-fighting. Examples of toxic clique behaviors include purposefully withholding information, delaying projects, and engaging in negative workplace gossip.

“Cliques can foster alignment with a shared vision and can help break down silos,” says Scott Anderson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “The challenge is to ensure that cliquish behaviors do not lead to fragmentation in an organization with reduced employee boundaries and failure to grow.”

Impact of toxic clique behaviors

Even in the most diverse workplaces, subconscious stereotyping or aligning with one clique may occur. While many toxic clique behaviors typically manifest from employee perceptions, management may unknowingly contribute to the problem. Some management behaviors to avoid include:

  • Showing favoritism through either verbal or non-verbal cues
  • Promoting an employee over a more qualified contributor
  • Disregarding complaints about or allowing missed deadlines for certain employees
  • Socializing off the clock where business information updates or gossip permeate discussions

If you don’t confront toxic dynamics, exclusionary behavior may become exacerbated, causing turmoil among the team. This turmoil could lead to extreme dissention, decreased productivity, and, ultimately, the loss of top performers who become alienated by peers. When anger and rejection broods, there is an increased potential for workplace aggression and violence.

Early intervention

Damia Tabachow, senior vice president of marketing at StoneRiver-RegEd, recommends direct and immediate intervention. “Although it can be a tough conversation to have, it is best to talk with the employee while the event is still fresh, as he may not realize the impact his actions have on the team.”

Tabachow adds that since conversations are confidential, other employees will not be aware of how you are managing the complaint. “Nip negativity in the bud, report your awareness of the situation, and take measures to address the situation in a timely manner.”

Steps to promote a cohesive team environment

  • Offer opportunities for team projects where each employee contributes and utilizes her skills. Empower employees to take manageable risks, and avoid stereotyping when offering assignments.
  • Keep employees on task. With a sufficient workload and a healthy work environment, productivity will flourish.
  • Be clear, consistent, and direct. Confront rumors, immediately verbalizing that all members belong to the same team, even those in other departments.
  • Operate on a zero-tolerance policy to exclusionary, bullying, and harassing behaviors. It is your responsibility to intervene. Gain support from your supervisor and human resources representative when necessary.
  • Pair new hires with seasoned employees for training and to build camaraderie.
  • Provide performance feedback, even if it is uncomfortable. Behaviors that undermine the team and disrupt cohesion can be a part of performance metrics.
  • Check yourself. Are your behaviors contributing to the dynamics of the problem? Worse than an uninformed or under-involved manager is one who perpetuates the exclusionary behavior.
  • Contact your Employee Assistance Program for a management consultation on how to proceed with confronting someone who perpetuates poor behavior. Be prepared to make a referral if necessary.
By Wendy McMillan, LPC, CEAP
Source: Liberman, Vadim. “When Office Bonds Turn Sour.” The Conference Board, Inc. Mar/Apr 2007, www.conferenceboard.org

Summary

  • Recognize toxic behaviors and intervene early.
  • Be clear, consistent and direct.
  • Promote a cohesive team environment.

The workplace is filled with opportunities to build networks that foster career advancement and develop social connections that provide emotional support. Among these networks, cliques can develop. As a manager, how you model appropriate boundaries, embrace diversity, and recognize the early signs of toxic clique behaviors can be critical to a team’s success.

Cohesive vs. toxic cliques

While cohesive cliques boost morale and foster team camaraderie, toxic cliques breed workplace conflict and exclusionary behaviors. This leads to distrust among employees and frequent team in-fighting. Examples of toxic clique behaviors include purposefully withholding information, delaying projects, and engaging in negative workplace gossip.

“Cliques can foster alignment with a shared vision and can help break down silos,” says Scott Anderson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “The challenge is to ensure that cliquish behaviors do not lead to fragmentation in an organization with reduced employee boundaries and failure to grow.”

Impact of toxic clique behaviors

Even in the most diverse workplaces, subconscious stereotyping or aligning with one clique may occur. While many toxic clique behaviors typically manifest from employee perceptions, management may unknowingly contribute to the problem. Some management behaviors to avoid include:

  • Showing favoritism through either verbal or non-verbal cues
  • Promoting an employee over a more qualified contributor
  • Disregarding complaints about or allowing missed deadlines for certain employees
  • Socializing off the clock where business information updates or gossip permeate discussions

If you don’t confront toxic dynamics, exclusionary behavior may become exacerbated, causing turmoil among the team. This turmoil could lead to extreme dissention, decreased productivity, and, ultimately, the loss of top performers who become alienated by peers. When anger and rejection broods, there is an increased potential for workplace aggression and violence.

Early intervention

Damia Tabachow, senior vice president of marketing at StoneRiver-RegEd, recommends direct and immediate intervention. “Although it can be a tough conversation to have, it is best to talk with the employee while the event is still fresh, as he may not realize the impact his actions have on the team.”

Tabachow adds that since conversations are confidential, other employees will not be aware of how you are managing the complaint. “Nip negativity in the bud, report your awareness of the situation, and take measures to address the situation in a timely manner.”

Steps to promote a cohesive team environment

  • Offer opportunities for team projects where each employee contributes and utilizes her skills. Empower employees to take manageable risks, and avoid stereotyping when offering assignments.
  • Keep employees on task. With a sufficient workload and a healthy work environment, productivity will flourish.
  • Be clear, consistent, and direct. Confront rumors, immediately verbalizing that all members belong to the same team, even those in other departments.
  • Operate on a zero-tolerance policy to exclusionary, bullying, and harassing behaviors. It is your responsibility to intervene. Gain support from your supervisor and human resources representative when necessary.
  • Pair new hires with seasoned employees for training and to build camaraderie.
  • Provide performance feedback, even if it is uncomfortable. Behaviors that undermine the team and disrupt cohesion can be a part of performance metrics.
  • Check yourself. Are your behaviors contributing to the dynamics of the problem? Worse than an uninformed or under-involved manager is one who perpetuates the exclusionary behavior.
  • Contact your Employee Assistance Program for a management consultation on how to proceed with confronting someone who perpetuates poor behavior. Be prepared to make a referral if necessary.
By Wendy McMillan, LPC, CEAP
Source: Liberman, Vadim. “When Office Bonds Turn Sour.” The Conference Board, Inc. Mar/Apr 2007, www.conferenceboard.org

Summary

  • Recognize toxic behaviors and intervene early.
  • Be clear, consistent and direct.
  • Promote a cohesive team environment.

The workplace is filled with opportunities to build networks that foster career advancement and develop social connections that provide emotional support. Among these networks, cliques can develop. As a manager, how you model appropriate boundaries, embrace diversity, and recognize the early signs of toxic clique behaviors can be critical to a team’s success.

Cohesive vs. toxic cliques

While cohesive cliques boost morale and foster team camaraderie, toxic cliques breed workplace conflict and exclusionary behaviors. This leads to distrust among employees and frequent team in-fighting. Examples of toxic clique behaviors include purposefully withholding information, delaying projects, and engaging in negative workplace gossip.

“Cliques can foster alignment with a shared vision and can help break down silos,” says Scott Anderson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “The challenge is to ensure that cliquish behaviors do not lead to fragmentation in an organization with reduced employee boundaries and failure to grow.”

Impact of toxic clique behaviors

Even in the most diverse workplaces, subconscious stereotyping or aligning with one clique may occur. While many toxic clique behaviors typically manifest from employee perceptions, management may unknowingly contribute to the problem. Some management behaviors to avoid include:

  • Showing favoritism through either verbal or non-verbal cues
  • Promoting an employee over a more qualified contributor
  • Disregarding complaints about or allowing missed deadlines for certain employees
  • Socializing off the clock where business information updates or gossip permeate discussions

If you don’t confront toxic dynamics, exclusionary behavior may become exacerbated, causing turmoil among the team. This turmoil could lead to extreme dissention, decreased productivity, and, ultimately, the loss of top performers who become alienated by peers. When anger and rejection broods, there is an increased potential for workplace aggression and violence.

Early intervention

Damia Tabachow, senior vice president of marketing at StoneRiver-RegEd, recommends direct and immediate intervention. “Although it can be a tough conversation to have, it is best to talk with the employee while the event is still fresh, as he may not realize the impact his actions have on the team.”

Tabachow adds that since conversations are confidential, other employees will not be aware of how you are managing the complaint. “Nip negativity in the bud, report your awareness of the situation, and take measures to address the situation in a timely manner.”

Steps to promote a cohesive team environment

  • Offer opportunities for team projects where each employee contributes and utilizes her skills. Empower employees to take manageable risks, and avoid stereotyping when offering assignments.
  • Keep employees on task. With a sufficient workload and a healthy work environment, productivity will flourish.
  • Be clear, consistent, and direct. Confront rumors, immediately verbalizing that all members belong to the same team, even those in other departments.
  • Operate on a zero-tolerance policy to exclusionary, bullying, and harassing behaviors. It is your responsibility to intervene. Gain support from your supervisor and human resources representative when necessary.
  • Pair new hires with seasoned employees for training and to build camaraderie.
  • Provide performance feedback, even if it is uncomfortable. Behaviors that undermine the team and disrupt cohesion can be a part of performance metrics.
  • Check yourself. Are your behaviors contributing to the dynamics of the problem? Worse than an uninformed or under-involved manager is one who perpetuates the exclusionary behavior.
  • Contact your Employee Assistance Program for a management consultation on how to proceed with confronting someone who perpetuates poor behavior. Be prepared to make a referral if necessary.
By Wendy McMillan, LPC, CEAP
Source: Liberman, Vadim. “When Office Bonds Turn Sour.” The Conference Board, Inc. Mar/Apr 2007, www.conferenceboard.org

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