Franny Oxford over at Do the Work blog wrote a post a while back about SHRM (aka the Society for Human Resource Management). While her post was about something completely different, she made reference to SHRM affiliated chapters being cliquish.
The comment really struck me because, during my involvement with SHRM, I’ve heard the same remark…many times. And I always walk away scratching my head about cliques, the perceptions of cliques and their relationship to teams.
I guess to understand my view, you have to know my definition of a clique. I define it as a group that excludes other people from being a part of it.
That being said, if the group doesn’t exclude you, but you don’t participate, the group isn’t being cliquish. You’re choosing not to participate. Here’s a common example: after our local chapter meetings, some of the current board, past board and anyone else who wants to hang out, will grab a drink at the bar. You decide to go home. The group at the bar isn’t a clique…they just want to hang out together.
The other comment I hear a lot is about the group having “private jokes” or “nicknames” and this means the group is a clique. Honestly, I don’t get it. When I was on the board of our local chapter, did we have private jokes…yep. Nicknames…guilty (mine is Kahuna – be sure to ask me how I got it next time you see me.) But also keep in mind, when a group of people meet at least twice a month, chat regularly on the phone and swap emails daily, they will get to know each other. They’ll learn each others’ idiosyncrasies. Jokes will form. Nicknames will happen.
On some level, you want those jokes. It helps the group become a team.
Groups deal with this balancing act all the time – wanting cohesion and camaraderie on one hand while not appearing to be a clique. I know many boards that will not allow fellow board members to sit together or talk to each other during membership meetings so no one will accuse them of cliquish behavior. It’s disappointing.
This isn’t to say cliques don’t exist, just as Franny mentions. There are organizations that don’t operate in a transparent way and blackball members simply for questioning board decisions. Those are definitely cliques (or worse) and deserve the bad reputation they get.
But for the groups that are just trying to do good work, make some contacts and have a little fun…I hope you’ll join them. It might take a little while before you get your nickname, but it will happen. And the relationships are well worth it!
Image courtesy of stevendepolo0
John Jorgensen says
You raise excellent points, as did Franny. My response is that cliques may happen in many organizations of any size, not just SHRM chapters (I don’t believe either of you indicated it was just a SHRM problem). I am not sure you can stop them, but it is up to the leaders of said organizations to make sure they do not harm or restrict the operations of those groups. I am no expert so I cannot give specific ways to combat them, but as a leader you need to keep an eye on them and not fall into one that is restrictive in that group.
Thanks for the perspective. And I will ask you about that name.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks for the comment John. I agree this isn’t an issue unique to SHRM. Many organizations face the same challenge. It’s a balancing act and leaders need to make sure they encourage the team while at the same time invite new people to participate.
Amybeth Hale says
Hi Sharlyn – I love the simple definition you’ve provided – cliques exclude people, but if the group doesn’t exclude you and you don’t participate, the group isn’t being cliquish. You’re choosing not to participate. Brilliant observation!
Most of us have been guilty of this accusation – including myself. I see a group of people who are having fun and a few individuals I love spending time with who are part of that group, yet I shy away from barging into the conversation. A lot of times the reason groups like that get labeled as such might be b/c when they do things together, there might be an implied open invitation that just isn’t being recognized by others not in the know. As well, for people who are more introverted, it’s not in their nature to be joiners. They require personal invitations. It’s a slippery slope isn’t it 🙂
Thank you for this thought-ful post!
Mary Jo Asmus says
There are two types of exclusion. One is explicit, and one is implicit. I think the second type is far more insidious and damaging to organizations, and it is the type I’ve seen the most. I love it when groups hang out, have fun together, may even have a few inside jokes. But when they don’t welcome others into their circle (yet are less than explicit in not welcoming), to me that is a clique. It isn’t professional and it isn’t kind. So my advice is that groups be aware of those who might feel left out implictly, and make a point of inviting them in.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks so much for the comment Amybeth. As an introvert, I always have to remember to invite myself. And it’s not like I get turned down. As you said – there’s an implied open invitation.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Hi Mary Jo. Thanks for the comment. I agree groups should be sensitive to perceptions. But I worry if groups are given the sole responsibility to be inviting, they will always appear to be not inviting enough. For example, I’ve made the announcement that a bunch of people are going over to XYZ after work and anyone is welcome to come. Then of course, someone says they felt excluded because they didn’t get a personal invitation.
At some point, individuals should take some responsibility and join in the group. If they’re shut out, then that gives you the answer. And you probably didn’t want to hang out with them anyway.
Maggie@ outplacement solution says
As a naturally sensitive person myself, I’ve had to learn to apply myself more in corporate, social situations such as this. The best advice I received was never to assume malice. If a bunch of people grabbed a drink after the meeting, and I wasn’t personally invited, it was most likely just an oversight or consequence of not being around when the discussion to grab drinks occurred. It was not a personal attack. Like you clarify, deliberate exclusion of others is what distinguishes a group from a clique. Now, if I think people are heading out somewhere, I ask where they’re going and tag along. I don’t passively wait for a personal invite and feel ostracized when I don’t receive one.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Good advice. Don’t assume malice and just tag along. Thanks for the comment Maggie.