One of the first things new employees encounter when they enter the workplace is an intensive effort by other employees to recruit them into a clique.
Those who hold a negative view of the organization will pull the new person aside to warn her about whom she can't trust and whom she should watch out for. They'll give her the history from their perspective of how to act and to whom to pay attention.
They'll invite the new employee to join in supporting their point of view. Cliques with a positive view will attempt to recruit this person at the same time. Thus the new employee is immediately torn as to which clique to join.
To the newcomer it feels much like a return to junior high school.
Cliques are simply support groups made up of people who believe in the same things. One of the characteristics of cliques is that they exist where there is no formal opportunity for people with opposing perspective to share and resolve their differences.
Whenever ambiguity exists and there's no formal way to determine which view is right and which is wrong, employees will form cliques with those who believe in the same things they do.
Cliques aren't necessarily bad. In fact, they provide a good source of our natural desire to belong to a group.
Problems occur, however, when cliques support practices that go against management policies. Cliques that work against or resist the intentions of management can become a detriment to the organization.
The consequences of cliques
Employees who are part of a clique feel involved and included. Those who are not, feel excluded. The decision to join a clique can have serious consequences. If a clique is viewed by management as disruptive or destructive then its members will be labeled accordingly.
The consequences could be fewer promotions or dismissal when a reduction in force is called for.
On the other hand employees who join cliques that management views as "good" are rewarded with promotions and increased job responsibilities.
Management's role in clique formation
Management is often caught up dealing with historical issues by trying to fix problems and rectify mistakes that have already gone wrong.
Meanwhile, future decisions are set aside or ignored thus creating ambiguity and inconsistency. By failing to address and clarify the ambiguities and inconsistencies as they arise, management is fostering cliques of negatively disposed employees who are fueled by assumptions and misperceptions.
Fast growing organizations and rapidly expanding companies are particularly vulnerable to the formation of potent cliques that amass the power that can bring down senior executives and administrators.
Management can take simple steps to curb the formation of energy draining cliques. These steps must begin when the employee is hired. Focus on welcoming new employees aboard. Make sure that it's very clear, immediately, what tasks they are to perform and how they can be successful.
Assign a new person to a mentor or someone experienced in the organization who is doing the job the way it should be done.
This education process should begin the moment the employee is hired. Let her know what to expect as soon as she comes to work. Have the mentor or workplace guide meet her on the first day at the front door. Make certain the new hire's job duties are explained and that someone takes her to lunch for the first couples of weeks.
Ask her frequently how she compares her actual job duties to what she thought she'd be doing when she accepted the position.
Have the mentor talk about what kinds of training and development she'll need and how to apply for it.
Stay involved for the first few weeks after the new employee comes onboard. Be easily accessible so that the new employee has someone to go to when she's faced with uncertainty.
One of the things that most organizations need to do better is the orientation of new hires. Typically, when the new hires start working their department heads are so anxious to make them productive that they don't let them go to orientation.
Right away, there's a problem as the new hires start working and experience a sense of constriction and confusion.
New hires need to be encouraged to admit when they are confused. By admitting that they need clarification, new hires are better able to garner useful information from credible sources.
Admitting to feeling confused allows the new person to explore the basis of the ambiguity and get clarification, thus counteracting their need to join a clique for affirmation.
Taken from Jones' new book, "Help! I'm Surrounded By Idiots: A Workplace Survival Guide," available at www.worxpublishing.com. Jones is a motivational speaker and seminar leader. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor.