How do you handle a powerful clique at work?
September 29, 2017 11:23 PM   Subscribe

We have a clique at work. They are small and powerful. They include our boss and a super capable worker. They're not bad, they just have an exclusive "members only" club. The "club" jockeys and lobbies for training and opportunities and they get them, leaving everyone else in the backwaters and dead ends. How do you deal with that?

I should say, we all get along pretty well both in and out of the clique so I have no desire for confrontation--that would be counterproductive. This "clique" came from a geographically different location as a result of the company's consolidation efforts. Now we're all together and they sort of "took over" our program a while ago.

As a result, good people are looking for jobs elsewhere because they don't want to be stuck doing dead end work (many of us took a cut in pay and work jobs here at lower levels of expertise to escape the layoffs of recent years and keep employed in a VERY exciting industry going through an extended but temporary slump right now). It's not like I or my coworkers can go to our boss over it--he's part of the clique.

Is there a way out of this other than quitting for better jobs? Can the clique be broken and still maintain professional relationships? How do you get advanced training and opportunities in such an environment?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have regular meetings with your boss to talk about your progress and goals? Do you mention that you're interested in opportunities and training?

You don't have to confront the clique to be upfront about your desire to grow and improve. When you hear that they're getting some kind of training you're interested in, you can say "Awesome, several of us have been wanting to do that training! Is it possible to make it available to the team?"

If your boss doesn't help the team get training and opportunities for no good reason after being asked, then I think you have a different question to ask.
posted by bunderful at 6:17 AM on September 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

I was just in a situation like this, where the favorites got the opportunity to learn new skills, and the ones on the outs just never got the chance and their lack of knowledge was then actually held against them, and a couple were let go. It was brutal. The boss just was not interested in mentoring the ones on the outs.

But. The fired ones made a bad impression from the beginning and the boss never forgave it. I'm not saying that's what happened to your group. It seems like your boss just knows the clique better. The only thing you can do is to do more. Do your job as well as you can. Ask the clique members to teach you more efficient ways. That might work. They will tell boss, oh we like working with OP, s/he is engaged in the work. Maybe communicate more with boss. One sentence emails. This project is done. I'm available. Stuff like that. They will notice you more. Be on the radar a little bit.

The boss just wants employees who are known (reliable) quantities, probably. Develop a good rep amongst the clique and be visible to the boss.

You can also go to her directly and say, I want more skills. That's a fact. It's not confrontational to say so.

I get there is a lot of solidarity among the group of outs and if you start doing these things it will look like brownnosing, sucking up, all the schoolyard stuff that seems to follow us into adulthood. But honestly, you have bills to pay and you want to learn and develop your skill set. There's a big distance between increasing your visibility and giving notice and small things you can do in the meantime to improve things that are improvable.
posted by charlielxxv at 6:21 AM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Document. Keep score. Note down the trainings and opportunities that each team member gets, and if you're not getting your fair share, ask for more.

Train yourself. Are there online webinars and/or moocs that you can use? Do your deadend work super-well and quickly so you have time for these webinars. Read up on a hot new thing so you can shine at the next meeting when the topic comes up.

Do they take lunch together without you? Invite yourself in, ignore the social cues and tag along, or sit at the same table. Make it as uncomfortable for them as it is for you right now. I know this sounds hard, but do it for 2 weeks and re-assess.

Share the load. You and your fellow Morlocks* might share your deadend work. Swap tasks and collaborate and talk up your different ways for doing things. No one has a monopoly on living.

*Explained by Gary Sinese to Mel Gibson in the movie Ransom. Morlock/Eloi is H.G. Wells' concept, from _The Time Machine_.
posted by at at 6:39 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some of the things I do at work could possibly be interpreted as the boss giving me special projects, but I told my boss 'I have x skills and if any projects come up that require those skills I would love to work on them.' I've gotten myself into projects where only more senior folks were involved by saying 'next time we update Y I would be really interested in helping out with it.'

I don't think anyone else on the team has an interest in this stuff, and I'm sure if my boss thought someone else was he would have us share the work. But I suppose it's possible that someone thinks I'm a favorite when really, I just asked and was very clear about my goals and interests.

YMMV, my boss is not your boss, etc.
posted by bunderful at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Is there a way out of this other than quitting for better jobs?

If it was me, I'd either quit or seek to work my way into the clique. That might make you uncomfortable if it seems like a betrayal of your non-clique co-workers but at the end of the day, they're not going to pay your bills for you.
posted by atrazine at 9:12 AM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

This was very much like my situation. In my case the clique are all immigrants of a certain ethnic group, and included my supervisor (but not my manager). From the beginning, I should have made a stink, forcing some kind of ruling on 'English-only in the workplace' with HR involvement, but like the OP I got along with the clique (at keast, initially) and I thought things would be okay. Ultimately, however, quitting was my only solution.
So good to be away from that place!
posted by Rash at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2017

Have you asked? Do your own self-appraisal and determine what training you need. Talk to your boss and explain why you need the training and how it will help you do your job better.

It's easy, esp. in a situation where the boss and some co-workers have a previous relationship, for the 'outsiders' to feel some resentment. Start building a better relationship with the boss and the buddy. Make sure Boss knows your strengths. Do great work and don't be shy about getting it recognized. Be very wary of the 'outsiders' who may be accustomed to complaining but will complain about everything; if it wasn't this it, would be something else. Being a complainer who doesn't work to resolve problems is a dead end.
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on September 30, 2017

How much of this is feeling hard done by about the previous 'demotions' and how much is about the clique.

If this is a team assembled from two teams, possibly companies how much of this is about culture and assumptions?

Give you an example. In my desk area in my office there used to be 7 auditors who all were friendly but largely quiet and beavering away. People found a phone booth or unused office for calls etc. To remediate overcrowding on another floor they moved people from another service line down to our area when some desks became free. And I was truly surprised how very different their team culture is. This starts with how much or little the windows get opened, extends to taking all calls at their desks and getting coffee/water for each other and finishes with constant chitchat among themselves. The most popular Friday topic Jan-March was where to go skiing this weekend and who was giving a lift to whom. Our lot would discuss this kind of thing over lunch or when grabbing a coffee or on the messaging system. We all need to do detail oriented work so even people who never used to listen to music now feel the need to do so to be able to focus.

Now, we don't have to cooperate with this team, we just have to share the space. You all have to work together. My point is that it may be helpful to analyse subtle cultural differences and start to work towards joining the clique. From what you said it does not sound like intentional exclusion but it sounds like two groups working in parallel, not forming a cohesive group. A lot of the perceived disadvantage comes from the boss being in one group and not the other. In an ideal world the boss would recognise that and come up with ways of forging a new team out of these two groups of people. But it doesn't sound like they have enough awareness to do that so you'll have to figure out how to get into the clique.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:03 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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