Sorry… just testing whether headlines like this actually work
On a more serious note: We did discuss how to handle situations in teams where there are “cliques” or “ingroups” and “outgroups” in our training on team coaching the other day (more on that training can be found here). You might notice the different groupings as a team coach, as a leader, as a fellow team member, as a facilitator. You see some team members talk to each other more than others, they are maybe friends outside of work or share the same interests. In team coaching sessions or workshops they will congregate in the same places or chose to be in the same small groups to collaborate.
Here is the world-famous (well, I guess now it is :-)) 4 “I” process on how to deal with it:
Is it an issue? If not: Ignore.
It is often assumed that having sub-groups in teams is a sign of “lack of cohesion” or conflict in a team. I think that this might be a theory driven assumption: we think we know what a perfect team should look like (take any of the more prevalent models) and compare our team to that “ideal” model. We forget that a) no team is ideal, b) every team is made up of different people who collaborate differently and c) ever team has different task and therefore needs different ways of collaboration. So it actually might not be a problem at all. The team members may just be fine with the “cliques” or “subgroups”. As long as everybody is feeling happy and willing to do their best? Just ignore the issue.
If it does seem to be an issue: share your observation in concrete, observable terms
Don’t share your interpretation: “We are having problems with exclusion in our team” or “There is no team cohesion”, but share what exactly it is that you are observing: “We hardly do anything together as a whole team, usually Fred, Martha and James are doing things together and Rick, Paula and Anne are collaborating. Sometimes we end up with different perspectives on where we are going as a team, for example, last week half of us thought we would have to complete the project on Thursday and was rushing like mad, while the other had understood that the deadline was next Monday and was taking things very chill. Obviously we got upset at each other. Could we talk about this?” In short, observe – don’t blame. If you are interpreting anything at all, interpret that everyone has good intentions.
Ask about what the team wants instead rather than going into “blamestorming”. It is natural that some people will like being with some people more than others – so invite the team to paint a rich picture of how they want their collaboration to be. How will they notice that they are collaborating well as an entire team? Get concrete details (I feel like I am repeating myself here, but this is so important!)
Invite the team to experiment and observe
I love the “secret mission” experiment. I don’t remember who I learnt this from — either Ben Furman or Daniel Meier, so please forgive if I am misquoting you. It goes like this: Every team member finds a “secret mission” for themselves. They will all do something to help the team collaborate better but will not tell anyone what they are doing. After a while, all get together and they guess who did what for the team. In one team workshop that I conducted, I invited them to take a piece of paper, write their name on it and then pass it around the table. All the other team members would write what they think the person did for the team under the name on the paper. When the paper landed back at the person who wrote his or her name, they were surprised at what everybody observed. You could feel the energy and joy in the room go up. One person had even generated a fake email and sent everyone compliments every week!
Ok, so maybe these are not 4 but 5 “I”s and maybe they are not “I”s at all :-), but who cares, right?
If you would like to explore more of these fun little team development moves, why not consider joining our 20 hour team coaching program?