The Toxic Clique

I am at a point in my career where I can philosophize on various patterns that I learned of indicative of toxic office cultures and career dead-ends. For example:

Today I am thinking of what I call The Toxic Clique.

I spent the first fifteen years of my career or so working with more or less the same group of people comprised of college classmates and startup “bros.” We flowed from job to job, helping one another. We had a dynamic amongst ourselves, and we worked well with each other for the most part. Effectively, we were pre-built team employers could hire as a group.

It was not until much later that I realized just how toxic we were to one another — and to others. Our Clique was impenetrable by outsiders. We carried same stale ideas from project to project. We didn’t allow one another to grow. Our opinions and patterns have become so inbred they were no longer productive.

Cliques happen all the time. A manager changes jobs and brings his buddies with him, carrying the same way of working and doing things with them. 

You might ask, “What is wrong with working with the same team you know works well?” It’s a valid question. I would be the first to say that in my career, it is not the companies and projects that matter most, it is the people.

But working with the same group of people for 20 years is probably as bad for your creativity as working on the same project for the same company as long. Your skills stagnate, your ideas become inbred, your work becomes outdated, and your growth becomes limited by the Clique that helped you earlier in your career. 

From the team perspective, the Clique is as toxic as the Smartest Person in the Room. Effectively, it’s a multi-person manifestation of the same concept. 

I am not arguing for abolishing the concept of employee referrals. The referrals serve a valuable purpose and indicate that your employees are happy enough with their work to refer their friends. Nor am I arguing against networking.

What I am arguing for is diversification. As a leader, keeping your team diverse with respect to both backgrounds and ideas is best. As a contributor, your career will greatly benefit from your network being diverse and widely cast.

So, break up those toxic cliques, and it’ll be good for you.