By Leon Gettler
Groups working well are important in any workplace. Managers love to see groups hitting targets and kicking goals. But they know that there’s a dark side to groups or cliques. If groups aren’t managed properly, employees will join forces against each other. They might gossip, spread rumours and make false assumptions. That can damage morale. Managers have to watch out for that.
According to Forbes, workers who fit a specific stereotypical archetype in high school—like “athlete,” “geek,” “class clown” or “teacher’s pet”—are more likely to be in an office clique. Also, it cites research showing that cliques are more likely to attract introverts.
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, says team building is the most effective way to manage cliques. “While it’s human nature to associate with peers who possess similar personality types and characteristics, the presence of cliques can be counterproductive in the workplace,” she says. “We see more managers using team-building activities or assembling people from different groups to work on projects to help discourage behaviours that can alienate others.” Carlton Vogt at InfoWorld says dealing with groups is the manager’s responsibility, no-one else’s.
“Here’s why I disagree with the idea that the manager is off the hook: tThe manager is paid to get the best results out of his/her team and to contribute as much as possible to the mission of the company. If anyone – especially someone who is a potentially good performer – is being marginalized, it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that office politics don’t adversely affect the company.”
He says managers should handle it by creating more diversity in the workplace so that teams are filled with different types of people. “Once you have a diverse workplace, it often takes some managerial expertise to be sure that the people work together. Younger workers may have new ideas and more energy. Older workers have a sense of history and bring the caution necessary to temper ideas with possible pitfalls.”
The National Federation of Independent Business in America says managers have to treat all employees equally regardless of whether they are part of some informal group or not. It says cliques are harmless as long as all members are turning out acceptable work and cooperating as needed. Managers should also learn to recognise the signs of an under-producing group. Members for example might be working at a level beneath their capacity. Or there might be a member who produces more than the others who ends up having problems with the other members. Managers should also keep workers constructively occupied. Bored employees have time to be troublesome. When unrest is evident, break up the group or rotate jobs and rearrange workstations if possible. And managers need to build some sort of connection with the group’s informal leader to gain the cooperation of the group. “If you can move the informal leader, you can move the group. You want the person who seems to be setting the pace for the group on your side. Avoid alienating the leader; this can alienate the entire group.”