Community or Clique?

Or more appropriately – Are you building a community or a clique?

We are all a part of many communities, both on and off line.  We are inundated with constant buzz about “building communities”.   How often though do we stop and look at whether what we are building or joining is really a community or is it a clique?

There are many different definitions of community.  Some having to with interests and some having to do with geography.   What we seem to have accepted as one definition of community (especially offline ones) is a group of people with similar interests and an agreement as to goals.  The question arises when do we cross the line between being an inclusive, supportive community to a clique (a small exclusive group of friends or associates).

So what do we really mean when we talk about building communities? What really differentiates a community from a clique?  In every community that we belong to, we have those who we feel more comfortable with, those we have more in common with.   But just a like a family, there is always that old aunt or uncle who tells the bad jokes or insists on pinching our cheeks.  There are the people we have less in common with, that we are not as comfortable being around.  When we talk about building a community doesn’t that mean including those people?  If we do not, aren’t we just building a clique?

Communities are multi-facted. If we accept that a community is a group of like-minded people working towards similar goals, doesn’t that mean we have to accept the ones we have less in common with, but who still meet that definition?  In your community, how often do you reach out to those people?  How often do you take the time to find out about them?  Do you reach out and try to help them?  If you are the “leader” of the community, isn’t it your responsibility to foster that environment?  If you claim to want to build a community, shouldn’t you be doing everything possible to foster communication, acceptance and cooperation among your community members?

Are you taking the time to learn and share the negative as well as the positive?  It is easy to share and celebrate all of the good things, but are you also willing to commit to helping your community members through the bad ones?  Do you have a community member who is having a hard time personally or professionally?  Do you even know?  If so, what are you doing to draw the community together to help this person?  Are you using all of the avenues and tools available to know what going on with your community members so that you can act on the good things and the bad things?

We all have our buddies, our friends within our communities and this is not to say that we should not have those we hang out with, socialize with and support those individuals.  But when we revolve our actions around those individuals and not everyone in our community, then we are not really building a community.  If your stated objectives include anything about togetherness, support, sharing or communication and you are not actively reaching across your entire organization and beyond with these concepts, then you are not building a community.  You are building a clique.


  1. Community sounds strong and clique not quite right either. Social networking, especially on Twitter, is probably forcing something else. Have heard that Facebook is people you used to know and Twitter people you’d like to know. Community in its real sense — and this may be limited to my personal experience — is the space in between. This is more obvious if you have kids. Community includes the people you can leave them with when you’re stuck.


    • Kate,

      What a lovely definition of community. I would agree that for each of us the definition of community is different, as it is different online and offline. I just think it is important to have a clear definition of what you consider your community and what it’s objectives are. Thanks for weighing in on the discussion!


  2. Great point. It’s often the people who are the most different from me, that I learn the most from. If I hadn’t embraced those people and listened to them, I wouldn’t grow and learn nearly half as much as I have.


  3. Interesting post. One possible definition of a community is when the total benefit individuals get from interacting with each other is greater than the sum of the whole. This is stronger than merely having common interests.

    This could arise in a couple of ways:
    1) there are positive unintended side effects of living together (e.g. artists living together learn from observing each other)
    2) even stronger, group cooperation is necessary to prevent unintended negative side effects (e.g. organised enforced rota of who cleans the bathroom…else everyone will have to bath in squalor).

    What does a clique get from staying together? Maybe to keep everyone else out of the group???


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