Dear Dr. Lisa:
We run a small business with about 10 employees. The office dynamic is significantly influenced by what I am going to call the “mean girl affect”. Our industry has a lot of women, and this is not to say that women are mean, but sometimes a clique emerges and that is tough in a small office. Currently, we have a mean girl situation. One of our lead technicians has some power with the rest of the staff and has used it to “ice out” another woman on the staff. She has not complained but I can imagine that she is not enjoying the work and at some point, she will quit. I would hate to lose her and yet it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is being done so I can stop it. What can I do?
Dear Ladies, Please!:
The issue you raise is so important. What your teammates are experiencing is documented in “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman. We typically see this behavior in the schoolyard, but unfortunately, it often makes its way into the office. There are two things at work – micro-messaging and social power. You will have to manage this closely to change it. Micro-messaging is hard to pinpoint because the offender typically does not say or do anything explicitly inappropriate. Instead they do subtle things to let everyone else know how folks stand in the pecking order. Your “Queen Bee” colleague has effectively set this in motion and everyone is complicit, hoping they will not find themselves on the outs with the Queen. There are ways to dismantle the Queen’s social power and change the office dynamic.
One option is to hire a person who would be senior to the “Queen Bee.” This is a power play that will change the power dynamic in the office. It also might mean adding diversity, which for you might mean hiring a male. That will succeed in changing the culture dynamic as well, as men don’t interact as women do. Another option to change the office dynamic is to create a new pecking order. Perhaps you give someone else the team lead role and announce that it will rotate. Set the guidelines for what team work will look like and reward those who follow the guidelines. If the rest of the staff sees the positive outcomes from getting along and working well together, the Queen will lose her influence and power to divide. You, therefore, will have to continue to find ways to create cohesion. After all, the employees came to work for you and they should be reminded that having a great work environment is what you value and reward.
P.S. Your theme song is, “Calm Down” by Taylor Swift.