27 October 2020 | 5 min read


If you’ve seen teen cult movies Mean Girls, Grease, or The Breakfast Club, you’ve seen how a clique can dominate relationships. Over the years, cliques have developed a bad rap for bringing out the worst in people and making others feel small. While it’s true that in the playground, high school, or work setting, a clique can be harmful, if appropriately handled, cliques can have some positive advantages for your team. 

Merriam-Webster defines a clique as “a narrow, exclusive circle or group of persons, especiallyone held together by common interests, views, or purposes.” The focus on exclusivity is where cliques get their negative reputation. It’s not okay to discriminate against people based on demographics or other similar factors. But as we’ve discussed in previous articles, filtering your volunteer team only to include those who genuinely want to participate and add value to the group is okay. 

In a volunteer team setting, there are actually some advantages to a clique mentality. And if handled inclusively, it can be an awesome opportunity to help your team bond. Here are 6 reasons your volunteer team should become more of a clique. 


If we learned anything from Mean Girls, it’s that cliques are notorious for insider language and jokes. It’s no surprise tight friend groups have a history, and that includes a ton of inside jokes. While it can be confusing or downright annoying to outsiders, it can actually be a good thing for your volunteer team. Creating and making inside jokes highlights the team’s synergy and connection. How? By creating an “in-group” feeling. According to an article in Medium, in-groups make everyone feel included and important. Mainly by referencing their connection to each other and spotlighting the feeling of being one of the team. Plus, a huge bonus is that humor is scientifically proven to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and even trigger creativity. So keep those inside jokes going. 


Research shows that people who are a part of a group feel safe. In fact, the sense of belonging was identified by Maslow as a critical human psychological need. Being a part of an exclusive group gives you a feeling of acceptance. Even rooting for your favorite sports team gives you a sense of pride and belonging. You don’t have to be a player on the field to be a part of the activity. Just by wearing the colors and cheering, you feel involved. Psychologists call this phenomenon “in-group/out-group.” The theory suggests that we all have a strong desire to be a part of a group, and when we are a part of one, we are “in-group.” This works the same way for volunteer teams. You are proud to be associated with the organization and the people working with it. 


Every year, my church holds a Fall Festival. We offer games, live music, candy, and hayrides to families in our community. The event takes many volunteers to run smoothly, and it’s a fun night for all involved. All volunteers get event t-shirts, but our staff members wear different colors to distinguish them as leaders. In my first year helping organize the leadership team, I started using a sharpie to put handwritten nicknames on the back of staffers’ shirts. I would also put a paragraph on a sticky note explaining why I selected that character for the person. Eventually, it became a looked-forward-to tradition. Each year, we would pick a topic like Superheroes, Fairy Tale Characters, or Famous Villains and give out names based on those categories. As more people outside the group saw the handwritten monikers, they asked how they could get one. It became a good conversation starter and offered the team the chance to talk about how people could get involved. 


Although most people in group settings naturally dial into their expected leader/follower roles, cliques can serve as opportunities to smash expectations and get experience. In healthy volunteer cliques, leadership roles can shift depending on tasks and projects. If a member has experience in a particular area, the group can reassign a team leader for the project’s duration. Cliques also teach members how to be good followers since group participation can help develop good social skills like empathy and teamwork. 


Our definition of a clique highlights the focus on shared interests and purposes. Belonging to a clique can also help people develop their interests and expand their horizons. Belonging to a team with a diverse group of people can introduce you to experiences and causes you would typically never have the chance to explore. It also allows you to develop relationships with people you may regularly not have the opportunity to connect with in your normal activities. Age, background, work, and social status all melt away as team members focus on common goals and interests. 


Teams who are in sync and work well together can accomplish major goals. Harvard Business Review attributes this great teamwork to a “shared mindset” where team members foster a common identity and common understanding. Some research even shows successful in-sync teams go so far as to physiologically meld (exhibit similar expressions like smiling, frowning, etc.). Healthy cliques are groups that share interests, goals, and purposes, and develop close relationships. These teams are primed to finish big goals and quickly check things off their task lists.