October 7, 2003      



Between the topic of this month, The High-Level Clique and next month's When You're the Outsider, we're starting to sound like an after school special. Yes, sometimes being in the office does make us feel and act like adolescents. But in this article we're talking about a clique based on organizational behavior, not personal whims.

If you're in the Boston area, you're invited to hear Rob speak at the Calkins Advisors Power Breakfast, part of a series of forums for senior executives to find new opportunities and build new relationships.
Date: October 14, 2003
Time: 7:30 AM networking/breakfast, 8:00 presentation, 8:50 Q & A, 9:15 closing remarks
Cost: $50 includes breakfast, presentation, and a copy of The Trusted Leader
Where: Doubletree Guest Suites, Waltham
To Register: call 508-435-1036

Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and friends who are interested in organizational and leadership issues. Your feedback is always welcome at info@thetrustedleader.com

-Rob and Anne-


The authors

The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

A Grudge from the Past

Meddling with Mediocrity

Surviving the Porcupine

Topics of Trust & Leadership archives

Next month's serving of Dim Sum: When You're the Outsider


The group at the top of your organization works extremely well together. It’s a tight team. Perhaps too tight. Somebody levels with you and says that people find the group way too insular, too much of a clique, apparently unwelcome to ideas brought forth by those not in the inner circle.

Things to think about: Can a group be too tight? Can that closeness hurt the organization in any way? Should others be brought into the inner circle to pacify the folks who are concerned?

There are numerous advantages to having a close-knit group of people at the top of an organization. Synergy. Momentum. Speed of decision-making. Ease of conflict resolution. Good humor. At the same time though, as Tom Valerio of CIGNA says, such a tight group can end up “selling each other hats” — thinking that the ideas they generate are great, but not putting them through the requisite checks and balances. “That’s a lovely hat you have on.” “No, yours is equally lovely.” “No, yours is truly better.” “No, yours is really superior.” In other words, they run the risk of being so attuned to one another, and doing so much thinking in sync that they lose perspective.

Annie has lived this situation. And, as she puts it, “It’s hard to resist the temptation simply to relax and enjoy the trust and closeness. It makes it great to go to work each day, knowing that you’re aligned with your colleagues. The problem is that being so insular can distance the group from the realities of the organization at large.”

Bringing others into the inner circle can help in cases like this. But there has to be a meaningful business reason for them to be there — something definite that they can contribute. Otherwise, they’ll have a hard time breaking in — even if the group understands the situation and wants to help.

A better approach might be to create another inner circle that intersects with the one in question. Or at least to broaden the group’s perspective (and connections with the organization at large) by deliberately building bridges to different parts of the company. Encourage them to call on a regular group of people outside the circle to offer their expertise and informed opinions on a variety of issues.

One top executive we know of — a member of just such an insular group — created his own advisory board, independent of the circle, to try to ensure that he was more attuned to the perspectives of those outside “the circle.” He encouraged the others at the top to do the same. It was an effective maneuver.

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How about you? Have you ever found yourself faced with a clique that insulated those at the top of your organization? How did you deal with it? Let us know.


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