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Dream Team Detox: Preventing Clique Management

Debra Rinell, CEO Childcare Management Solutions, SWLearns,; Program Advisor 30+ years, Early Learning Development.

You’ve finally managed to bring together a cohesive team—core employees who practically finish each other’s sentences. They work in sync, share ideas and their energy is infectious. So, why isn’t it translating into an improved organization, stronger culture or higher profits? Could it be that your dream team is more clique than leadership?

Cliquish leadership can lead to toxic behavior and can erode the foundation of your company over time. Here are some red flags that your leadership team is a clique and how to help your company detox.

1. Job Sharing

While supporting one another is a cornerstone of a strong team, this shouldn’t include blurring the job description of each member’s role. Cliques will often dismiss the notion that any one of them is solely responsible for specific outcomes, insisting instead that they all pitch in and share the load. This type of leadership will make it all but impossible to measure individual performance and is designed to protect the clique, not your company.

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It’s important that each individual recognize their own role and understand its expectations. This is something that should be reiterated at each meeting through the review of specific KPIs (key performance indicators). Holding each member of leadership accountable to their role and outcomes does not diminish their ability to support co-workers but still measures individual performance.

Clearly defined roles and KPIs won’t prevent cliquish leadership alone. Consistent individual accountability, however, will stifle job sharing aimed at protecting the clique.

2. Friends And Family Plan

How are other employees assessed by your team? Is everyone held to specific KPIs, or do they seem optional for some and weapons against others? Employees not held to company standards likely enjoy fringe membership in the clique, while those less favored are dismissed as nonperformers.

If your team is not holding everyone to the same code of conduct, you may see employee retention suffer, and hiring and training costs increase. Just as with your leadership, employees should have clearly defined roles and performance indicators they are required to meet, regardless of who they are friends with or related to.

3. “If It Ain’t Broke” Mindset

Innovation and higher standards of expectation are how companies grow and thrive. If your leadership team takes a “good enough” approach by dismissing ideas or increased effort, this is a clique that has developed its own method of doing things, and change, regardless of whether it’s for good the company, is not good for them.

Leading with the fixed mindset that what got the company here today will get it there tomorrow is not leadership your company will thrive under. Stuck under cliquish leadership, failure to thrive may not be your biggest worry—replacing your entire leadership team will be.

When decisions are made to make changes or institute new processes or policies, make them unequivocally. As the owner, you are the company’s visionary, and it is up to your leaders to execute on your vision, not the future of their clique.

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Seeking and being receptive to ideas and feedback is an excellent way to combat your own potential mindset, but once you’ve considered all that you need to, it’s time to be decisive. Be sure to modify KPIs to include the expectation that performance and outcomes reflect any new changes you’ve made.

4. Hidden Agendas

A clique opposed to change or expanded effort will go to extraordinary lengths to advance its own agenda. This might be something along the lines of promotion of one of their own or any change that improves the position of the clique within the organization.

When presenting new ideas or proposals, clique leadership will work out details to their advantage while presenting them as being in alignment with company growth or effort. Like any good lie, it will contain just enough truth to be convincing. If there are more benefits for the leaders than the company, this is a major red flag your dream team is a clique.

Critical decisions require a devil’s advocate approach in discernment to protect against bias. Involving your team in decisions is an important strategy for growth. Meetings should be conducted with specific rules of conduct for discussion and brainstorming. A format for stating the topic at hand, clarifying questions and discussion should be used.

Develop a practice of thanking all for their feedback and ideas, then take time alone to consider all ramifications. As a courtesy, let your team leaders know your decision and simply state its next steps toward implementation.

Consistent practice of critical analysis and a format for discussion and decision making help ensure that hidden agendas never see the light of day.


It is unlikely that your leadership team began as a clique. Cliques are not uncommon in the workplace and develop for various reasons. While some may be harmless, simply anchored in workplace familiarities, a leadership clique holds authority over membership.

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Cliques tend toward an “in our out” mentality. It may seem ironic, but even the CEO of a cliquish leadership team can find themselves outside looking in, struggling to regain grasp of their company. Cliques are not a far stretch from group-think, where the emotional stakes of belonging can outweigh rational thought or behavior. Institute clear expectations for each role, use critical thinking that looks for bias and be decisive. These practices can help protect your dream team from becoming a clique and your company from becoming toxic.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?


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