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What to Do About Cliques in the Veterinary Practice

And how to promote inclusion, diversity and collaboration in the veterinary practice.


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A veterinary practice manager writes: 

I took on a practice management role a few months ago in a hospital with about 40 employees. The former practice manager (let’s call her Jane) is still working there, but in a different role. It was her decision to step down from the PM role and she is now the Client Relations Manager. 

Last week, Jane invited me out to dinner with some of the team members.There were 10 of us there. I assumed that everyone was invited but the others couldn’t come. However, throughout the night, it became clear that this was a regular group of support staff and two veterinarians who socialize outside of work and don’t invite anyone else. 

Not inviting the others is not the primary problem; it’s the topics of conversation during the dinner and the fact that Jane, who is still in a leadership position, was engaging in it. There was talk about other team members, who left and why, who they don’t like and why not … Basically, lots of gossiping and negativity. 

The next day at work, I did notice that Jane spends more time with the dinner gang than she does with everyone else, and they clearly have a close relationship. I mean, I did notice this when I first joined, but it was at the dinner that I became aware of the extent of it, and just how much of an issue it is. 

I was really surprised by Jane’s behavior, and I’m not sure if I should approach her about this and how? She is obviously close friends with this group of team members, so I can’t just tell her to stop hanging out with them. 

It sounds like you’ve got yourself a good ol’ fashioned clique. Remember the movie Mean Girls? Yep, one of those. 

Unfortunately, they are not uncommon. A workplace conflict report found that 80 percent of employees have experienced workplace cliques. 

Cliques are tightly knit groups of people, with shared interests who socialize in and out of the office. You will see cliques form any place where there are groups of people — individuals tend to gravitate toward others who they perceive to be similar to themselves. Cliques form from a need to belong — joining a clique can give individuals a feeling of security and sense of identity. 

There is a fundamental difference between teams and cliques. Teams are a good thing. Cliques are not. 

Teams are groups of people who share a common purpose and are working together toward a shared goal.

Cliques often exclude others, as you have seen with Jane and her “dinner gang.” 

There are other negatives as well, including: 

  • Cliques stand in the way of collaboration in the workplace and inclusion of diverse perspectives.
  • Those within the clique may not be recognized by management for their individual contributions or achievements. Instead, they are seen as belonging to that group, and are painted with the same brush.
  • Cliques are rarely made up of high performers.
  • We grow and develop through learning, through new experiences and new perspectives — in a clique, you are surrounding yourself with people who are like you. It’s comfortable and you have a sense of security, but you are not growing and developing.
  • Cliques typically form in workplaces with weak management — groups form to fill the void of leadership. 

So, how do you deal with them? It’s best to prevent them from forming in the first place. You can do this by shaping the culture in your veterinary practice by promoting inclusion, diversity and collaboration.

Here are some specific actions you can take to minimize the likelihood of cliques forming: 

  • Ask yourself: Am I a clique leader? Do you have a couple of close friends at work, who you even subconsciously give preference to?
  • Plan team-building activities. They can be brief, part of a team meeting, or you can organize something outside work hours.
  • Assemble a diverse team to work on a project together
  • Institute a ‘no-gossip’ policy ... and enforce it. (Trying to engage others in gossip is how cliques recruit new members.)

You can’t write a policy that prevents cliques forming, but you can create an environment that fosters community and inclusiveness. 

Maybe it’s not too late to include Jane in your efforts to bring the entire team together? Considering she was in a leadership position previously, having a frank discussion with her about the above points may do the trick. 

OK, now that the clique has already formed, what can you do? 

Here are some suggestions of things you can do to slowly break up the clique: 

  • Bring or buy lunch for the entire team a couple of times per month, and bring together clique members and non-members. Sharing a meal is a great way to build relationships.
  • Schedule clique members on different days of the week, or with minimal overlap between their shifts.
  • If the above is not possible, separate them ‘physically’ by having one on reception, the other in surgery.
  • Place yourself in between clique members in conversation. This isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, and you’ll see lots of leaders doing this — join in conversations in the break room, hospital area or surgery and bring others into the conversation to make them feel included and part of the team. 
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