I often hear people refer to other team members as part of the “inner circle” on the team. What fascinates me is when the supposed members of this inner circle have either no sense of the existence of an inner circle or at least of their membership in it.
Yet for those who perceive it, the inner circle is very real. The sense of being excluded from an in-group on the team can be very de-motivating. I have seen this dynamic destroy team effectiveness.
What to do if you’re trapped outside the circle.
I’ve noticed that the inner circle is less about what the inner circle does or says and more about the outsiders. If you’re feeling like you’re on the outside, consider the following:
1. Have I connected with the people in the inner circle? As I watch these dynamics in action, it’s very common for the outsider to keep at a distance rather than engage with the rest of the team. This is true for both work interactions and at lunch or other breaks. If you keep your distance, members of the inner circle could easily assume that you aren’t interested in joining. Step into the circle.
2. Am I working as hard as those people? Sometimes the inner circle forms among a group of people who work longer hours and go the extra mile. These people have learned to count on each other to “git ‘er done” when it really matters. Next time a project requires extra hours, roll up your sleeves and find a way to be useful. Pitch in.
3. Do I have something valuable to offer? The inner circle, like the Justice League, needs diverse skills to be strong. If you’ve got a superpower they don’t have (think Aqua Man for undersea crime), offer it up. If members of the inner circle don’t know what you can do, they are less likely to seek you out. Add value.
Finally, ask yourself whether the inner circle really exists, or whether it’s a figment of your self-deprecating imagination. If you act like there’s a wall between you and other members of your team, there might as well be.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen new people wander right in to the inner circle while others just stand watching from a distance. Which one will you be?