Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 29

Q: I have a simple problem. Ten people who work for me are evenly split into two cliques. Neither group is better than the other and their performance is fine - except when they have to work cross-clique and then everything grinds to a halt. When new people join they seem to join one of the two cliques, so the situation is self-perpetuating. What practical steps can I take?

A: This may be a simple problem to describe, however it is not simple to solve. Behaviours, attitudes and prejudices are among the most difficult issues we face as managers. This is not going to be comfortable, but you should summon up your courage. Leaving things as they are is not a sensible option.

First, identify a facilitator if you can afford one, or a helpful colleague from outside your team. Ask them to interview each member of your team and tease out what each clique thinks about the other. Then share the anonymised perceptions with everyone.

It is good to confront people with their prejudices. You may be surprised by their reactions. There may be some real misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Second, see if you can design work processes that oblige individuals to work across the cliques. It is often difficult to sustain prejudice when you get to know someone better and depend on them for delivery. Do this on an individual rather than clique basis to avoid the danger of gridlock.

Third, when you appoint new members of staff, make a guess as to which clique they are likely to join and buddy them up with a member of the other clique for an induction period.

Fourth, are you sure that performance is fine? It is difficult to believe it is as good as it could be. Identify better outcomes you think could be achieved with better co-operation and describe them to the team. Some of them will respond to the challenge, particularly if your improved outcomes relate directly to patient care.

Give it a try. None of this may work. If it does not and performance really is fine you may just have to live with it.

People do not have to like each other to work together, but it helps.

Ken Jarrold is chief executive of County Durham and Tees Valley strategic health authority. E-mail your query in confidence to alexis. nolan@emap. com