The end of the year typically brings holiday cheer with celebrations alongside family, friends and, often, colleagues. We humans connect with people we enjoy and value, reflecting on the past year and planning for the year to come.

We seek inclusion with others during the holiday season. We also seek inclusion every other month of the year, and sometimes don’t find it.

One of the gaps I consistently discover when working with leaders on their team, division or organization’s culture is the perception of favoritism. When this occurs, employees have a belief that there is an “insider” group that receives preferential treatment — and people outside that circle see unfairness everywhere they look.

Folks on the “outside” feel excluded from knowing details and context that will help them in their daily work. They feel “out of the loop,” and it doesn’t make them feel trusted, valued or respected. This problem appears in some form or another on teams of all types and sizes: small teams, global agencies, whole plants — everywhere.

The “insider/outsider” dynamic may or may not be intentional. The reality is it doesn’t matter if it’s intentional; it erodes team performance and employee engagement just the same.

What causes these insider versus outsider perceptions? It’s typically a series of small-yet-consistent themes employees notice over time.

You may experience two colleagues talking about a solution for a big client team you’re a part of, but you’ve not heard a thing about that solution. You wonder, “How is it I don’t know about this?”

You may experience a senior leader visiting and laughing with a colleague in the next cubicle. You stand up to say hello just as the leader strides past you, without a word or a smile.

You may overhear colleagues visiting about the great dinner party they attended at a senior leader’s home over the weekend. You weren’t invited.

You may read a notice outlining a change in a policy for which you are a subject matter expert — yet you weren’t consulted.

Sometimes the “outsider” experiences are bigger and bolder. Those erode confidence just as effectively as the small experiences.

Most leaders are surprised at the “favoritism” perception. It’s not usually something they intend to create. And, when confronted with these insider/outsider perceptions, many leaders I work with say, “Of course I have favorites! They’re always there to carry the load when things get hectic!”

These leaders have learned to depend on those players and to nurture their relationships with those players. And most leaders I work with don’t want to perpetuate the perception of favoritism.

I coach those leaders to be intentionally inclusive. Overcommunicate — repeat key concepts at least three times. Share those concepts in multiple ways (verbally, by e-mail, postings on internal websites or, yes, even bulletin boards). Visit everyone regularly, face to face or by phone, even those players who are not yet your favorites!

I also coach team members to be proactive. Schedule 30-minute one-on-one meetings with your boss weekly. Share traction on goals, ask for help on items as required, and close the meeting an “invite me in” question like, “Is there anything going on that I should know about or that I can help with?”

You may not get all the information you need right away, but keep at it, anyway.

What do you think? To what extent is there the perception of favoritism in your team or division? How do your great bosses ensure that everyone is an “insider”? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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I invite you to add your experiences to two “fast & free” research projects I have underway. The Great Boss Assessment compares your current boss’ behaviors with those of great bosses. The Performance-Values Assessment compares your organization’s culture practices to those of high performing, values-aligned organizations. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes. The music heard on these podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

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