how to end office cliques

How to Eliminate Office Cliques and Unify Your Team

January 15, 2024

Workplace cliques divide teams.

When these divisions exist in your organization, employees will expend energy trying to deal with the clique. They will be on the defensive. They will look for faults in other groups. They will focus on the success of their group more than the success of the company.

My wife, Melíssa, once worked at a corporation where she was put in charge of a team in one region, while another VP led the same type of team in another region. The two teams shared no projects and had little interaction, yet immediately after Melíssa’s assignment to this position, the VP of the other region began to focus negatively on Melíssa’s team. She was constantly checking in on their progress. She became upset when her team members interacted with Melíssa, and she complained when Melíssa planned a team outing with her team because it made her feel bad that she hadn’t planned one with hers.  

This woman spent a tremendous amount of energy being threatened by a team that had no direct impact on her team, despite both teams being part of the same company! Think how much more productive and happy she would have been if she had simply kept her focus on serving her team and clients. 

The Root of Workplace Cliques 

Pride produces jealousy, and jealousy produces opposition. One of the worst forms of opposition in the professional world is workplace cliques. When a few people intentionally or unintentionally form a group that views others as opposition, trouble is on the horizon. 

office clique woman

I’m surprised by how little attention this subject receives. Workplace cliques are so common I think most of us have just come to accept them as a way of life. Cliques exist in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Of course, they’re going to exist in the office, right? 

Imagine a Major League Baseball team forming cliques. The outfielders stick together and are threatened by the other players. The infielders believe they’re the best and deserve more credit. The pitcher and catcher can’t believe the rest of the team gets paid as well as they do. Trust and camaraderie are in short supply. Clearly, this team is doomed to failure with no hope of a championship, let alone a winning record.

How Cliques Form in Companies

Workplace cliques form between like-minded people who have something in common. These can be a number of things, such as personality types, tenure at the company, or the location at which they work. The most common type I’ve seen, however, is the infamous department clique. In my experience, companies that have rival departments are especially doomed.

Recently, one of our developers and one of our digital marketers took the time to create a new tool to make the setup of Google Analytics preferences and profiles more efficient. The tool will potentially save us hours of work on new digital marketing projects. I had no idea this tool was being built but was very pleased to see these two team members from different departments use their free time to work together to improve our process. 

When people ask me what sets Blue Compass apart from our competitors, one of the things I cite is how well our departments work together. I’ve seen many organizations that struggle in this area. It’s not uncommon for a marketing department to butt heads with IT, for instance. Incredible things can happen, however, when departments are aligned. 

happy office culture at Blue Compass

Signs That Workplace Cliques are Forming in Your Company

Do cliques exist in your organization? My guess is you can easily think of a few right now, but there may be some you don’t perceive. A few signs of work cliques include:

  • Team members who spend excessive time together, rarely interacting with others  
  • Team members who regularly exclude others 
  • Team members who gossip about others 
  • Team members who talk negatively about others 
  • Team members who are excessively competitive with other internal groups 

The reality is very simply: you cannot have a good culture when groups of employees view each other as the enemy. Your company must discourage all workplace cliques. 

But how?  

How to Stop Office Cliques in Your Business

First, tell your team how important it is that everyone supports each other. Internal messaging from your CEO, VPs, managers, etc., should focus on the importance of togetherness. Seek opportunities to allow someone from one department to publicly compliment other departments. Praise those who work well with other groups. Use meetings, emails, internal chat, newsletters, etc., to advance this messaging. 
retain book

Create opportunities for employees to get together and bond with team members that are outside of their normal bubble. For instance, we occasionally have team lunches in which we assign groups of a half dozen or so team members to eat together and specifically choose people who don’t work together directly. Each group gets to pick a restaurant from which we order lunch and are given a number of entertaining questions to answer together. 

It may be necessary to have direct conversations with team members who are especially opposed to other groups in the office. Be clear that everyone in your organization is on the same team. Share clear expectations that everyone is supportive and positive towards other departments. Discuss this with employees in regular one-on-one meetings. 

Perhaps the most important thing you can personally do to discourage internal divisions in your company is to never publicly favor one group of employees over another. Model the behavior you want from others.