Impact of Competent Jerk Cliques at Workplace

The Formation of social networks in the workspace happens based on shared interests or personalities. This amazing article by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks divides people based on the criteria of competence and likability and brings forward four archetypes.

the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with; the lovable fool, who doesn’t know much but is a delight to have around; the lovable star, who’s both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who…well, that’s self-explanatory.

This article aims to talk about impact of the Competent Jerk archetypes when they form cliques ( a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them. ) and takes a stab at what can be done to improve and retain the culture in the long run when that happens.

A competent jerk is someone who is highly skilled and competent in their work, but has a personality that can be abrasive, dismissive, or even hostile towards others. When a competent jerk forms a clique at work, it can have a significant impact on the workplace environment and the overall productivity of the team.

One of the main reasons why competent jerks form cliques is because they feel comfortable working with individuals who share their work values and priorities ( who doesn’t ). They may prioritize results over relationships and feel that working with their own clique will lead to better results. However, this can create a toxic work environment for those outside of the clique.

One of the primary impacts of competent jerk cliques is that they can create an exclusive and unwelcoming work environment for those outside of the group. The clique may ignore or dismiss the ideas and opinions of those outside of their circle, leading to feelings of isolation and exclusion. This can be especially frustrating if the individual feels like their input could have contributed positively to the project.

Furthermore, when the clique prioritizes results over relationships, it can create a highly competitive work environment that fosters an "every person for themselves" mentality. This can lead to individuals working against each other rather than collaboratively, causing tension and conflict within the team. To an outsider, it becomes difficult to communicate effectively with the clique and leads to further feelings of isolation and exclusion.

All of these factors contribute to a toxic work culture that can be detrimental to the overall productivity and morale of the team. It can lead to offensive and defensive behavior at work, where individuals within the clique may feel a sense of superiority over those outside of the group, while individuals outside of the clique may feel like they are constantly under attack or being dismissed by those within the group. Offensive behavior can manifest in behaviors such as belittling, mocking, or dismissing the ideas and opinions of others, as well as bullying or other forms of harassment towards those outside of the group. Defensive behavior can manifest in behaviors such as avoiding communication, or working against the clique rather than collaboratively.

It's important for leaders to address this behavior in order to create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment for all team members. By promoting open communication, collaboration, and respect for diverse perspectives, leaders can break down cliques and foster a more positive and productive workplace.

Breaking down cliques

In order to break down cliques, leaders should encourage team members to work collaboratively and communicate openly. It's important for leaders to recognize the value of diverse perspectives and encourage all team members to share their ideas and opinions, regardless of whether they are part of the clique or not. In addition, leaders should set clear expectations for behavior and establish consequences for behaviors that are not aligned with the team's values. This can help to discourage offensive behavior and promote a more respectful and inclusive work environment.

Encourage open communication

  • Encourage discussions and feedback about culture.
  • Organize regular town hall meetings where employees can voice their opinions, concerns, and suggestions.
  • Create a 360 degree feedback system that allows employees to share their thoughts and ideas without fear of retribution.
  • Train managers and team leaders on effective communication techniques, such as active listening and empathy.
  • Foster a culture of transparency by sharing company goals, plans, and progress with employees.

Provide opportunities for professional development

  • Offer training and development programs that are relevant to employees' roles and career goals.
  • Encourage employees to attend conferences, webinars, and other industry events.
  • Provide mentoring and coaching programs to help employees develop new skills and advance in their careers.
  • Create a culture of learning by encouraging employees to share their knowledge and expertise with each other.

Foster a culture of diversity and inclusion

  • Hire a diverse workforce that reflects the community and customer base the company serves.
  • Offer diversity and inclusion training to all employees to increase awareness and understanding.
  • Provide support for employee resource groups that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Create policies and procedures that promote diversity and inclusion, such as flexible work arrangements that accommodate employees' needs.

Lead by example

  • Communicate the company's vision, mission, and values to employees and demonstrate how they align with the company's goals.
  • Hold themselves and their teams accountable for meeting goals and objectives.
  • Encourage open communication and provide feedback regularly.
  • Be willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility for their actions.

Finally, leaders should promote team-building activities that help to build trust and relationships between team members. This can help to break down cliques and foster a more collaborative and supportive work environment.

Breaking the cliques will not only benefit those who were previously excluded from the clique, but also the competent jerks themselves, who may gain new perspectives and ideas by working collaboratively with a diverse group of individuals.

It's important to note that breaking down cliques is not an easy task, especially if the behavior has been ingrained for a long time. It may take time and effort to shift the workplace culture towards a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

One approach that can be effective is to identify the underlying values and motivations of the competent jerk clique. By understanding what drives their behavior and what they hope to achieve, leaders can find ways to align these values with the overall goals of the team. This can help to shift the focus from individual success to team success, which can lead to a more collaborative and inclusive work environment.

Hope this was helpful! Feel free to share your insights on the blog from the Contact Page, or by directly dropping an email to If you have anything that would help improve this setup, I'd love to hear and discuss about it.