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As part of our series on Employee Experience we look at culture, cliques and tribes in the workplace.

This article is part of a series on Employee Experience.

Uncomfortable with many of the assumptions we hear about employees, we interviewed a mix of young frontline and knowledge workers, with degrees and without, and from a wide range of backgrounds. We sought to understand how they feel about work, where the differences lie and whether anything we think we know about them is true.

How would you describe the culture of your company? Friendly? Open? Fun? Few people would boast about having a siloed and divided workplace. Cliques and tribes at work form seemingly spontaneously and they are often not talked about. While it's tempting to believe that it's just human nature, the reality is often different. Yes, culture grows organically, but really good culture doesn't just happen.

People naturally seek to spend time with like-minded others, but at work, internal cliques can trigger anxiety and unhealthy competition. Fostering a collaborative workplace requires people to feel comfortable expressing vulnerability, asking questions and sharing the stories of their mistakes. In a culture where pockets of the team are constantly worried about how they are perceived by others the cost of making a mistake is high. This doesn't mean mistakes don't happen, it just means they stay hidden and get repeated over and over.

While this culture is inefficient and costly, it's also a waste of opportunity. The key to breaking silos at work sits in empowering individuals to bring value to each other's lives. Knowledge sharing and continuous learning are some of the most tangible ways to feel the impact of your daily work. While many jobs are now several steps removed from the end beneficiary of the service, the people we work with are usually close to us and available. The relationships we build with them are what make the job what it is.

When individual achievement and ownership are rewarded above collaboration a workplace gets quiet. A good way to check the temperature is to pay attention to how often people would ask questions - of their leaders, managers, peers and everyone in-between. Asking is a sign of comfort and serves as a way to align viewpoints and eliminate assumptions. Silence means everyone is expected to know all the answers already - an unrealistic and scary place to be. No wonder people seek safety in numbers, clustering around whatever they can find that unites them.

How do we avoid this? What can leadership do? What's the role of HR, line management and peers? On every level, leading by example is the first step. Be the person to ask for help, for another opinion, for a 5-minute chat. Even if it feels odd or if it fails the first time. Small, persistent daily changes are the bedrock of tidal shifts.

On an organisational level, think about how you structure teams and people. How you talk about success and who gets to speak? Do you always default to giving voice to seniors, or to men or to the people you have grown to like and trust over time? It's surprisingly easy to systematically exclude and marginalise groups without realising it. It's human nature to be drawn to the tried and tested, falling victim to the biases of our far from perfect brains. Before you know it you've cultivated a culture. But remember - good culture doesn't just happen. You have to put some effort in, at least in the beginning. It will grow, but it needs direction.

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