Workplace Relationships:How Managers Can Effectively Manage Cliques

Posted by on Aug 23, 2011 in Featured, Managing and Leading, SWD, Training and Development | 4 comments

I recieve many questions from managers on how to improve workplace relationships. Here is one of the questions that frequently comes up when I speak in an organization.

Question: We have a lot of cliques in our workplace.  As a manager I wonder what are the dangers to the workplace, and how should a manager work to break up the cliques?

Answer: Generally people think of high school when they hear the word “clique” but cliques are present at business networkings, professional organizations and in the workplace.  Cliques are a concern for mangers in the workplace because they can impact effective workplace relationships. Specifically,

  • Cliques can represent exclusion
  • Cliques contribute to jealousy
  • Cliques create a tribal mentality or blind spots

When I was an employee cliques would gather at the break table. The cliques were so solid that each person even had their preferred place at the break table. Once when I was farmed out to a different department I unknowingly sat at the “wrong” spot at the break table.   Each person, in that clique, got up and moved to a different table so they could sit in the proper order. It felt so bad to be the outsider, but their actions made it plain that they were a group and were not open to outsiders.

People are cliquish by nature. We all like to be comfortable and we are most comfortable with those who agree with us and like us. Those who are most comfortable in cliques are not likely to be growth oriented or open to change. Therein lies the problem regarding teamwork and productive workplace relationships.

Gallup found that a key component of consistent performance is having at least one good friend at work, however a clique is more than two people. Before you jump in and try to break up the cliques…there are some benefits. Let’s look at those first.

Good things about cliques

  • People form friendships based on common values and beliefs
  • People can identify with those who are most like them
  • Sense of comfort and acceptance
  • Relationships are an important source of energy renewal

The downside of employees forming a clique is that they can stop growing and expanding, and before long they are living in a comfortable little box. However, it is important to encourage your employees to develop new workplace relationships so they continue to build their skills. Sales people are very aware that they always need to be expanding their network. It’s not as much of a need for those who do office or factory work. They have no real motivation to reach out.

With some good training techniques managers can help those in cliques to get to know their co-workers so that everyone can expand and increase the benefit of good workplace relationships.

Managers can

  • Facilitate discussion and pair people up to solve a problem
  • Teach people to expand their internal network to heighten productivity
  • Provide training to teach interpersonal skills
  • Challenge people to step out of their comfort zone one time per month
  • Make a game out of it to promote teamwork

By encouraging employees to make new workplace relationships, you will help them to expand their professional network to improve teamwork, communication and productivity.


  1. This has got me to thinking about ways to improve relationships throughout all of the departments. The first thing that came to my mind was somewhat like the “Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes”. My idea is why not spend that one day a month in another department learning what their average day consists of. I think this not only would get everyone to know their co-workers but a new understanding of what each area goes through. You aren’t just in your little bubble.

    • Thanks Lori. You are right on target with your thinking. I often recommend shadowing as a way to stand in the other person’s shoes. This is a great way to reduce workplace conflict, and to improve workplace relationships. Sometimes new ideas and solutions come as a result. Keep me posted.

  2. Great post, Marlene. Your insights apply equally well to working with volunteer groups and to parenting children. I’ve posted a summary and link here
    and posted it on WomenSpeak’s facebook page.