Flawed Barrels 1: Cliques

A previous post considered bad apples. This post shifts to flawed barrels as the root of dysfunctional workgroups. Some of the most common barrel flaws are cliques, indifference, and leadership lapses.

A regular complaint from workgroups describes barriers. People have a proclivity for noting distinctions among themselves. Having noticed a distinction, people too often limit their contacts to their own side of the divide. People construct divisions on gender, race, occupation, proximity, height, accent, alma mater, or just about anything. The distinction may occur as simply a greater comfort with like-minded people. Or it can occur as an active antipathy towards people on the other side of the divide.

On a global level, such distinctions are dysfunctional in that they create barriers. In a workgroup, these barriers impede the free flow of information, the development of partnerships, and fair treatment of one another. When a workgroup depends on sharing timely information among team members, even the smallest hesitation to talk with a colleague can hit the group’s capacity to perform. For example, members of a medical team work more effectively when they actively share patient information. When they erect boundaries on profession or gender, slowing the flow of information, people make decisions deprived of relevant information. Surgeons have operated on the wrong patient when other providers were too intimidated to point out the mistake.

The nature of civility differs for interactions across a boundary than for interactions within the boundary. Generally, boundaries inhibit the flow of information. Limiting information can be functional then the selection arises from a solid grasp of what the other party requires to make good decisions. It becomes dysfunctional when limitation simply means people talk less with one another.

The most direct way to overcome barriers is to promote active conversations among team members. It helps to acknowledge the possibility of barriers developing. People can then develop strategies for avoiding communication blockages and to recognize problems as soon as they develop. These strategies are integral to the CREW approach.

Cliques run counter to a performance. They give greater priority to subgroup values over the workgroup’s mission.

What barriers exist in your workgroup?

This entry was posted in Areas of Worklife, Change Management, Civility, community, CREW, Dysfunctional Groups, Leadership, Psychological Resilience, resiliency, Respect and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Flawed Barrels 1: Cliques

  1. Heriberto says:

    Dear Dr. Leiter:

    This blog entry is pertinent with my actual commision as coordinator of a recently conformed workgroup of Psychologists. The main barrier is the integration process. Some of them used to be part of a directive group, and feel that they still have authority to impose their opinions and decisions. It leads to constant irruptions in group’s decisions, putting their personal interests in first place and generating a perception of inequity in the other members of the group.

    Conversations are our principal resource to create common strategies to organize work and make conflicts, an opportunity to share different points of view.

    • Michael says:


      Merging groups into a single team is a major challenge. People remain attached to their original group. I agree that maintaining conversations that emphasize the shared mission of everyone in the team is an essential step. Bringing together people does not occur quickly. It takes a long,consistent effort.
      All the best

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Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

Over the years, Dr. Leiter has worked closely with a host of researchers, including Dr. Christine Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and most recently, with Dr. Arnold Bakker on work engagement. Now, through work with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. - Dr. Leiter has the CREW Solution.

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