Focus on Teamwork to Kick the Cliques

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Katie is a veterinary nurse who joined the practice just 6 months ago. She was hired in part because of her glowing references, and clients have already given her good reviews on the practice website. However, when asked how she is enjoying her work, Katie fumbles for words. “I love my job,” she says, “but I do not believe I am fitting in. Sometimes the other team members whisper when I am nearby. Yesterday, everyone stopped talking and just stared when I walked into the treatment room. I asked if I had missed something and they either rolled their eyes or ignored me. Last week, they forgot to tell me about the team meeting.”

Have you heard similar stories or experienced the uncomfortable feeling of being left out? In a recent Career Builder survey, 45% of team members complained about cliques in the workplace.1 

Good & Bad—Mostly Bad

A clique—defined as “a narrow, exclusive circle or group of persons”2—can sometimes be positive (eg, pulling together in life experiences such as a medical emergency situation or having shared interests or talents can build strong bonds). However, cliques are more likely to affect a practice negatively by undermining the culture, causing division in the team, and isolating certain team members.

Isolating Katie

Katie, the new veterinary nurse who felt that she did not fit in at the practice, was being isolated by:

  • A controlled group with defined members 
  • Rules of government the members followed
  • The group’s rule to exclude newcomers
  • The group’s limited communication and interaction with those outside its circle

Team members who belong to a clique limit themselves and their ability to grow in their profession and advance in the practice by restricting themselves from interacting and learning from others or getting trapped playing the clique-think “blame game.” Cliques can decrease efficiency, cause miscommunication with clients and team members, and result in team member dissatisfaction and turnover.

In terms of turnover, the financial impact is tangible. A Center for America Progress study found the cost of losing a team member can range from 16% of salary for hourly, unsalaried team members to 213% of salary for a team member in a highly trained position.3 In human medicine, communication failures can have dramatic effects4; one study found “social, relational, and organizational structures contribute to communication failures that have been implicated as a large contributor to adverse clinical events and outcomes.”5 

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More damage is done when team members go against their normal behavior to be accepted by a clique. The Career Builder survey also found that 20% of team members had done something they did not want to do just to fit in1 (eg, laughed at an off-color joke, made fun of another team member).

Common Goals & Values Are Key

  • High-performing teams are built on a foundation of inter-dependent, high-performing individuals working toward a common goal within a high-performing culture.
  • Common values + consistent behaviors + a high-performing culture + high-performing individuals = a high-performing practice team

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants and Advanstar Publishing; 2016:46.

What Can Be Done?

How can veterinary practices prevent cliques from developing? How can existing cliques be eliminated? How can a team member recognize he or she is part of a clique?

Kicking the Cliques

Preventing Cliques from Developing

  • Foster an environment of camaraderie based on values and a culture that defines the business by creating a common sense of purpose and the “we-are-in-it-together” mentality.6 Welcome new team members with an onboarding training plan to proactively promote understanding of the practice culture. 
  • Use the team schedule to discourage cliques and ensure every team member works with each other. This does not mean changing the schedule because Jan does not like June—it means encouraging teamwork by mixing up team members.
  • Encourage every team member to spend time with every other team member, and do not allow anyone to play favorites. Interteam projects and cross-training can help.
  • Provide job descriptions and expectations by role rather than by individual. 
  • Give timely, accurate feedback based on documented expectations to make clear that each team member’s behavior is more important than whom they associate with at the practice. The most highly skilled veterinary nurse who arrives late every morning cannot be the best veterinary nurse if his or her lack of adherence to the rules is not corrected. The rest of the team feels devalued by the behavior and unprotected by the supervisor. This fuels a clique.

Eliminating Existing Cliques

  • Define work values and behaviors and integrate them into the workplace.
  • Hold team meetings to teach team members what defines the practice culture (eg, treating everyone with respect).
  • Provide processes for team members to constructively deal with issues and engage in conflict resolution.
  • Create cross-training programs so team members know and appreciate each individual’s contributions to the team.
  • Find ways to discover common interests or backgrounds among team members (eg, as an icebreaker at a team meeting, ask everyone to share 2 known and one unknown fact about him- or herself).
  • Provide communication and conflict training to promote solutions and their implementation rather than airing of disagreements. 

Recognizing You Are Part of a Clique 

  • Study your own behavior (eg, do you participate in or overlook gossip?).
  • Look at how your behavior affects the team (eg, do you treat each team member fairly or play favorites?). 
  • Use one of the following tools to increase self-awareness and assess your own behavior. 
    • The Four Agreements7
      • Be impeccable with your word. 
      • Do not take anything personally.
      • Do not make assumptions.
      • Always do your best.
    • Follow Stephen Covey’s Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.8
    • Change your approach and become a learner instead of a judger.9

Focus on Teamwork

One of the biggest challenges for practices is finding and retaining qualified team members and keeping them motivated. A practice culture that focuses on teamwork helps ensure team members are happy and stay with the practice.

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2017: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants, Tassava Consulting, and VetSuccess; 2017:54.

Conclusion

Katie gave her team members the opportunity to work with her and to grow as a team and showed she had leadership qualities. Successful teams are made up of people who enjoy working with team members who are sincere, trustworthy, thoughtful, considerate, and fun. Creating a practice culture that is trusting and respectful will grow teamwork and efficiency and do away with the damage that cliques cause.

1Eliminate cliques in the practice by actively creating an environment of camaraderie and a common sense of team purpose, and promote the culture to new team members.

2Provide processes (eg, cross-training programs) that team members can use to deal with problems and resolve conflicts. When team members appreciate everyone’s role and contribution, cliques are less likely to form.

3Be sure the team is familiar with the tools they can use to assess their own behavior.

References and author information Show
References
  1. Tappero J. Cliques in the workplace. West Sound Workforce. https://www.westsoundworkforce.com/cliques-in-the-workplace. Published September 23, 2014. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  2. Clique. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clique. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  3. Boushey H, Glynn SJ. There are significant business costs to replacing employees. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2012/11/16/44464/there-are-significant-business-costs-to-replacing-employees. Published November 16, 2012. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  4. Sternberg S. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. US News and World Report. May 3, 2016. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/medical-errors-are-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-the-us. Accessed April 3, 2017. 
  5. Sutcliffe KM, Lewton E, Rosenthal MM. Communication failures: an insidious contributor to medical mishaps. Acad Med. 2004;79(2):186-194.
  6. Riordan CM. We all need friends at work. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/07/we-all-need-friends-at-work. Published July 3, 2013. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  7. Ruiz, dM. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing; 1997:ix.
  8. Covey SR. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY: Free Press; 1989.
  9. Adams M. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd ed. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 2016.
Author

Mary Ann Vande Linde

DVM Vande Linde & Associates, Brunswick, Georgia

Mary Ann Vande Linde, DVM, is a graduate of University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Her career background includes working in private practice; teaching at various veterinary academic institutions, technician schools, and conferences; serving as a practice management consultant; developing, mentoring, and coaching female practice owners; developing training programs to mentor and coach veterinary associates for professional success; and working with management teams at many major veterinary corporations. She currently serves on the Companion Animal Parasite Council board and as a Blue Buffalo veterinary advisor, and she is also a member of VetPartners, AVMA, and AAHA. In 2008, Mary Ann founded Vande Linde & Associates to focus on excellent preventive care and total pet wellness through compassionate, consistent communication between clients, veterinarians, and the veterinary team.

FUN FACT: Mary Ann shares her time with Mr. Darcy, an energetic border terrier who enjoys beach walks and bike rides.

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Veterinary Team Brief delivers practical skills for team-based medicine—with clinical strategies for team training, peer-reviewed credibility, concise content, essential training modules, and easy-to-implement protocols. From the publisher of Clinician's Brief.