Does your ward have cliques?  Are cliques a good or bad thing?

Cliques tend to form within the boundaries of a larger group among individuals most likely to interact based on common interests.  While cliques can occur within any group, in our modern society of inclusion and participation awards, the term is often used pejoratively:

  • Exclusivity.  By default cliques exclude those who don’t share those common interests or social opportunities.
  • Self-reinforcing.  Cliques develop a sub-set of standards within the larger organization.  For example, a teenage clique might develop more specific dress standards (e.g. skinny jeans or black tee shirts) that are a sub-set of what is admissible in the high school they attend, but that does not include other admissible attire (e.g. chinos and polo shirts) that pertains to a different clique in the same high school.  Over time, behaviors, values, and so forth are normative within the smaller clique and will differ from the larger group as a whole.
  • “Popular” or “cool” factor.  Those who aspire to inclusion in a clique that does not include them may experience envy or feel spiteful toward those in that clique.  Likewise, those within a clique may look down on those who do not share their clique’s normative values and behaviors.

Surely this doesn’t happen among adults in the church.  Or does it?

A psychometric test called the FIRO-B attempts to gauge one’s interest in being included.  It covers the following personal characteristics:

  • Inclusion.  Those with high inclusion scores want to belong.  If they feel they don’t belong, they may become offended.  Ask yourself:  Do I want to be included or would I rather be left alone?
    • High Inclusion:  Am I missing out on something that everyone else is doing?  Am I in the “in” crowd?
    • Low Inclusion:  Maybe if I unplug the phone and don’t answer the door, they will go away!
  • Control.  Control relates to one’s desire to direct the activities of others.  Ask yourself:  How much say do I want to have in what the group is doing?
    • High Control:  I know the best way to do this, if they would just let me do it.
    • Low Control:  Why do I always have to do everything?
  • Affection.  This relates to one’s desire for warmth in relationships.  Ask yourself:  Do I want my relationships to be close and personal or to maintain distance and independence?
    • High Affection:  I just love people.  I’m a hugger.
    • Low Affection:  Don’t touch me.  Have we even been properly introduced?

The instrument measures two other aspects as well:

  • Expressed behavior.  This relates to one’s own actions in relation to the social group.  Ask yourself:  How much do I take initiative to meet my needs for affection, control, and inclusion?
    • High Expressed Behavior:  I take the initiative to set the terms of my relationships.
    • Low Expressed Behavior:  I’m not likely to be the one to call you or invite you
  • Wanted behavior.  This relates to how you would like others to act in relation to your needs.  Ask yourself:  How much do you want others to initiate actions to meet your needs for affection, control and inclusion?
    • High Wanted Behavior:  If I have to ask you for what I need, then that’s not much of a relationship.  You should know what I  need.
    • Low Wanted Behavior:  I don’t rely on others to get what I need.

So, cliques happen.  That much is a natural byproduct of social groups.  What cliquish behavior occurs in church?

  • Extending callings based on personal friendship.  Or conversely, those called to serve together closely may form a clique that outlasts callings.
  • “Lunch Bunch” or book club groups.  Focus groups in Relief Society are in essence a form of clique – a smaller group that forms within a larger group based on a common interest.
  • Families with same age kids tend to group together.
  • Priesthood grouping by age can foster cliques.
  • Less active members or converts may find it difficult to break into established groups of people.

The church also has some clique-busters built in:

  • Rotating visiting & home teaching assignments.
  • Callings that rotate and mix groups of different interests, age groups, and socio-economic status into presidencies and quorums.
  • A spirit of inclusion; activities are to be open access to all ward members and at no cost to participants.
  • Fellowshipping for converts and ward missionary programs.

In my experience, most claims of cliquishness relate to people whose needs aren’t being met.  What do you think?  Is your ward cliquish?  What types of cliques have you observed?  How do you get past cliques?  Does this model (FIRO-B) help explain how people relate to groups?  Discuss.