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#AskCharlie: how to avoid cliques in the office

"Cliques have started to form in our office. How do we maintain an environment where everyone feels included?"

Every week, our panel of HR experts suggest how to tackle a problem sent in from our community. Have you got a current issue you would like us to address? Email [email protected] and we’ll see if we can help!

You spend eight hours a day with your colleagues, so it’s great when one or two of them finally become “real” friends. However, if your team is starting to splinter off into smaller groups that exclude or isolate individuals, your office can start to feel like an unfriendly place for everyone else.

Ensuring that your team remains open, productive and flexible requires a certain amount of social engineering, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you figure out what works for everyone. This stuff needs time, attention and hard work to get right, and even then it’s an ever changing beast that can turn at any minute when you’re not looking.

Here are a few fast ways to ensure that everyone feels at home in your workplace:

Keep an eye out

As your business grows the team dynamic can shift, sometimes before you realise it. Cliques will consistently form in common areas - a senior/junior divide, those with longer tenures versus those newer to the company, or a cultural split by team. Being aware of where divisions are likely to occur helps you act fast when they do.

Set expectations

Not everyone is out to be a Queen Bee, and most simply fail to recognise that their own friendships can seem to exclude others. Usually raising their awareness and gently pointing out how their behaviour might be perceived by others is enough to do the trick.

Provide incentives

Try offering a weekly lunch where a group of people from different teams or social groups are randomly selected to enjoy a company-expensed meal together. Alternatively, offer to pay for coffee “dates” for people whose roles don’t demand them to spend time together. Even one good conversation can be enough to break down barriers.

Take the team away

Not every company can afford lavish retreats in sunshine resorts, but getting the team away from the office - even just for a day - can be hugely valuable. It affords you the opportunity to mix up teams and create more of a common understanding between different groups.

Rearrange your office

Physical space can have a massive impact on the way that people behave. Ask yourself if the layout of your office encourages arbitrary divisions. Mix people up, move certain people away from each other, be inventive.

The easiest way to avoid cliques forming is to engage leadership and key members of the team. As the influential members of your community, they have a responsibility to be conscious of what’s happening in their periphery and use their influence to engage and include everyone.