It may surprise you to know that I was once a horrible guild member. It’s true, I was. No, I wasn’t overtly rude or mean. I participated in guild chat. I greeted everyone with a friendly hello! But I was also part of a clique. There were five of us (not coincidentally, a five-man group). One rogue, one resto shaman, one mage, one protection warrior, and one hunter. We were inseparable, spending most nights running dungeons, doing battlegrounds, or hanging out together on Vent. We snickered about other guild members in our private chat channel. We were very “us versus them,” and unsurprisingly, we ended up leaving the guild in question – all at once, en masse.
I’m not proud of this, by the way, but I am using it as a perfect example of what I want to talk about. I believe that the story could have ended differently, had the leadership in that guild been paying close attention and made any efforts whatsoever. There were warning signs. Here are the circumstances that led to the situation I describe above.
First, Voss and I joined this guild at a fairly low-level. We were about level thirty, while of course the majority of guildies were 70. It’s difficult to run things with people who aren’t even your level, and a few guildies made an effort but for the most part we were very much on our own. So that’s an unavoidable circumstance (although one that’s readily ameliorated, given time). We were so sure that if we just got to level 70, we would fit in! We would have people to do things with!
On the surface, this guild was “friendly.” In actuality, most of the people in it were primarily interested in hanging out with the people they already knew. That’s natural, and it happens. What it did was serve to isolate us further, but around that time a new member joined the guild – a hunter, just a few levels behind us. He deliberately sped up his leveling so he could be of a level with us. Then, a couple that had been in the guild before us (but taken a hiatus) came back. They were around level sixty, which is where we were at the time. We thought we might try some five-mans. We went through each of the Burning Crusade five-mans with our hunter friend driving us. He had greater game experience than any of us, and had left a hardcore raiding guild to reroll on an RP server in order to take it easy. Little did we know, he was honing us to be a very efficient five-person team.
By the time we hit 7o, we geared up very quickly (again, I didn’t realize this at the time, but our hunter suggested instances that would have upgrades for all of us.) By the time we moved on to heroics, we really worked well together and we’d found out something, too: we no longer needed our guild. For the most part, if all five of us weren’t around, we simply didn’t run anything. The attitude of most other guildies towards us hadn’t improved. We expressed interest in raiding and the guild leader said that perhaps an alternate Kara run could be put together. Another guildie we didn’t know remarked on the forums that it could be like “Kara on training wheels.” This air of condescension didn’t improve matters.
Each week at the guild meeting (held in a spooky location in Duskwood) we attended and crammed ourselves onto one long bench, all five of us. As I said, all of the signs were there. We weren’t integrated with the rest of the guild, frankly didn’t care what they thought, and eventually grew so fed up that we left (and when we left, of course, we all left together).
One of those friends has since been lost (MIA), the other two both stopped playing the game. Naturally, Voss and I still play together. I have fond memories of them. Here we are in another guild (guild name pictured is not the guild discussed above. I’m trying to be classier than that). Besides, I know that we were trouble for that guild. It isn’t all, “Oh, how we were wronged.” We stopped trying to be friends with them and instead opted to be the bad kids at the back of the room, doing entirely our own thing. It’s a tough thing to handle, as a guild leader or officer, but I do have some suggestions.
Have a clear vision for what you want your guild to be. I’m sure in larger guilds it’s harder to manage cliques, because you do have so many people. People are going to naturally want to split off into smaller groups. That’s fine. The expectation in my guild is that everyone is going to get along (even if they aren’t the best of friends, we are all going to be civil and friendly to one another). Anyone will run five mans with anyone else. We’re all in a smaller guild because we want to get to know our fellow guildies, and know them well. It’s part of the experience we’re seeking, so we have the advantage of a very clear bottom-line: you don’t have to best friends, but you do have to get along and be inclusive of other members.
Make sure your guildies know what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. I think our biggest problem with the guild above was that we joined it expecting to meet people we could spend time with (it was, after all, an RP guild on an RP server; even at lower levels we could have gotten together to RP) and I’m not actually sure what they expected of us. Probably they didn’t expect that we would leave and take five people out of the guild at one time.
Divide and (Befriend)
Cliques usually become more of a concern when:
1) members have a pre-existing attachment to each other, either from a former guild or real-life friendship or both,
or 2) some circumstance in the guild drives people towards each other in the face of adversity.
If anyone feels under attack, isolated, or otherwise excluded from guild activities – they are liable to gravitate towards other people who feel the same way.
What’s the solution to this? Be as inclusive as you possibly can. Make an extra effort to get to know specific people. You don’t always have to be the one spending time with them, but bringing them into a five-man group with other guildies might make those guildies more inclined to run together later. One of the best officers I ever had was a lady from the guild pictured above. Each week she’d say to me, “Oh, so-and-so is my ‘project.’” She meant by this that each week she was focusing on getting to know one person specifically, to talk to and include them. Of course you have to do this with moderation. If someone is an introvert, being badgered constantly is probably not going to earn their friendship; it might get them to stop logging in with exasperation. So this is your first step, you must get to know people and include them. The second component to this (if a clique already exists) is to try to do it without existing friends around.
See if you can get the guy who is usually quiet in guild chat into Mumble to run some five-mans. Most people will open up a bit more in that circumstance, plus they get to know you as well. Do this with everyone you can – separately. People who realize that you care about getting to know them as individuals are much more likely to feel at home in your guild, and much less likely to only talk to their close friends.
Limit New Folks
This one is easier said than done. One guild I was in actually had a hard and fast limit of members they would accept within a given time frame. This ensured that before new members joined, others would already be a part of the guild. The needs of a raiding guild can sometimes preclude this, unfortunately, but it’s still important to keep in mind. Each new person you introduce into a group will unbalance it simply by being there. Everyone has to get to know the new member, and assert their role within the group. It takes time to settle down. When you have many new people at one time, you run the risk of completely unbalancing the preexisting social dynamic. You can even isolate the guildies you already have, because things have changed, and they may no longer see themselves in the change.
For this reason I’m especially wary of groups of players. You see these ads on the forums, “Mage, H Pally, Druid LF Raiding Guild.” Sometimes, maybe these will be a great find. Just be aware that you may be letting yourself in for a ready-made clique that could prove difficult to integrate into your guild.
This may seem overly simplistic, but if you respect your guild members are a up front with them about any issues or problems, I have a naive belief that you can’t go too far wrong. It’s tough, because you can’t exactly tell someone “I notice you only hang around with these two other people. Could you try to spend time with other people too?” Small cliques and groups will naturally form in any group of people. They aren’t even necessarily something you want to avoid at all costs, so much as be aware of. Does it matter if Jim, Jacqueline and Joe have an arena team together? Probably not. Do they have an arena team together but also never run five-mans with anyone but each other? You might have a problem there. What you CAN say is, “Hey Jim (or Jacqueline, or Joe), want to come run this five-man with us?”
If folks are still sticking to themselves primarily, you could just ask them separately if there is a problem they want to talk about, and whether everything is okay. Maybe they had a conflict with another guildie and are specifically avoiding him/her, or maybe they are shy and haven’t known how to expand their social circle within the guild. Whether there is a problem or not, you won’t know unless you ask. Taking the time to talk to someone is far preferable than saying later, “I am always available to talk! Why didn’t you come talk to me?” Plenty of people aren’t comfortable approaching leadership about anything “official,” or they themselves may not know their problem is big enough to need addressing. If you take the time to check in with your guildies periodically just to see how they are doing, I guarantee you’ll have a healthier guild as a result.
I should add, as an aside, that I sometimes feel a bit odd writing posts like this when I know that some guildies read my blog. Yes, I think about “management stuff,” but it isn’t motivated from a place of wanting to manipulate guild folks. I’ve seen this attitude of “We are such a small group, so we don’t need rules” or “We just want to have fun, we don’t need any management BS,” but I actually think that having people who do consider these things is what helps to ensure that everyone has fun. Most of the time, I’m just thinking, “Hey, let’s go kill some internet dragons!” and having fun with the people in my guild. But I do stay attuned to the social currents, if you will, to make sure that potential problems are waylaid before they ruin anyone’s good times.
So have you had the trouble of cliques in your guild before? Were you a member of one (like I was?) What did/would you do to handle them?