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The Guild Counsel: The crisis of cliques

Karen Bryan

Last week, a few readers offered up a terrific subject for the Guild Counsel to take a look at -- cliques. Those little pockets of exclusivity can wreak enormous havoc on an unsuspecting guild. Guild leaders want their guilds to resemble Little House on the Prairie, but what they get is a sinister version of Married... with Children.

Why are cliques dangerous, and how should a guild leader handle them? Read on for some handy advice and helpful tips!

The only sure things in life are death, taxes, and guilds with cliques

First off, make peace with the fact that cliques are unavoidable. Members in your guild will usually gravitate towards familiar faces, and it's natural for people to want to play with people they know and like. In some older guilds, certain members might have been playing with each other for years; in others, pockets of members might have migrated over after their previous guild dissolved. Furthermore, MMOs themselves tend to nudge players into cliques. One night, a guild is working on a multi-group raid zone, and the next, it's forced to pare down in order to try small-raid or group content. That can put an enormous strain on a guild, as members jockey for a position in the strongest group.

As a guild leader, you must accept that there's nothing you can do to completely avoid cliques in your guild. But then again, you shouldn't, because cliques themselves aren't actually bad. If a group of friends enjoys playing with each other, you can't honestly stifle that. I'm a firm believer that guild leaders should never regulate against fun, and keeping friends from playing together definitely ruins the enjoyment.

Cliques gone wild

The danger with cliques isn't in their presence -- it's how they conduct themselves. There is power in numbers, and it's far too easy for an innocent group of friends to suddenly become an influential lobby group, or worse, a band of mutineers. People love to talk, and it's amazing how quickly conversation can go from "what's your favorite off-hand weapon" to "who should really be running the guild?" It's easy for a guild leader to turn down one single member's request, but when that one person can sway five or six others into supporting him, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to veto. That's the real trouble with cliques.

Any time a group of members starts to become the loudspeaker for their cause of choice or flexes their muscles to push for change, it can disrupt the guild and eventually even cause a guild to split up. Members quickly see that change happens through force and begin to lose trust in the guild leader. They realize that if they aren't part of the clique, they're out in the cold.

That's the other major problem with cliques -- the dreaded "Team A" and "Team B." In many cases, a certain group of members will always play together because they're darned good players and they prefer to be surrounded by the best. At face value, that's perfectly reasonable, and you can't fault someone for that. But it becomes dangerous when you see the same top players hanging out together night after night, or worse, giving the impression that those outside the clique aren't any good.

Cliques at the top

While guild leaders can often feel threatened by member cliques, the reverse is dangerous too. Many leaders and officers don't notice it, but far too often, they begin to resemble a clique to their members, and top-down cliques can be equally destructive to a guild. Once again, the issue is power. If the members of the leadership circle hang out together to the exclusion of others, they end up alienating their members and fracturing the guild. It's particularly true of guild leaders -- I'm particularly careful not to give off the appearance that I'm part of a clique, because I know how members can read into that and feel as if I'm playing favorites or only listening to a select few when making decisions. It's a very tough issue because guild leaders and officers become very close and have to put a lot of trust in each other in order to run the guild. Naturally, they're the people you are most comfortable with and prefer to hang around with, but you have to balance it so you don't ignore the rest of the guild.

What to do?

Suppose you do have a clique that's becoming a problem. What do you do? First off, make sure you're regularly planning and running inclusive activities. Raiding is the obvious choice of many guilds, but for those that don't raid, figure out what brought your members together and do it. Whether it's roleplaying in-game events, organizing bazaars to sell your guild wares, or running PvP strike nights, there's always something you can set up that brings your members together and includes as many of them as possible. I remember in EverQuest, I used to run a regular event called "Operation Clean Sweep," and on those nights, the guild would gather together and knock out as many member requests for help that we could. We'd have a strike team that would take out the mobs that members needed help with, a scout group that would be check on the next target in advance, and a port team that would help with arranging travel from one mob to the next. Sometimes the targets were easy mobs for lower-level members, and sometimes they were multi-group challenges, but at the end of the night, we walked away with several requests met and many happy members who all felt they had a hand in helping the guild make progress.

Second, try to handle guild issues one-on-one, rather than five-on-one. The more people who approach you about something, the more likely that you'll be put on the defensive about it, and the more quickly reasonable discussion goes out the window. If you can calmly talk with one person and reach a fair resolution, it usually settles the rest of the clique down, and the guild sees that decisions aren't going to be made through lobbying or muscle-flexing.

Lastly, I personally make it clear to the guild that it's OK to play with friends. But at the end of the day, we're one guild, and everyone is on equal footing. Everyone who joined our guild shares some common ideas about how we play and what we want to accomplish. The more I can emphasize that through our goals and guild events, the less people notice those pesky little cliques.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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