Competition works for sports people but not inside organisations

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There are, no doubt, those who will refute the headline. They believe that internal competition is an essential ingredient in their organisation’s success.   In some cases that might be true, however for the majority of organisations internal competition promotes dysfunctional behaviours.

A couple points to understand about competition is that it’s extrinsic, and that true competition is nothing more than a measure which when applied correctly is an assessment of ability among equals. As an example, if eight Olympic swimmers compete in the final of the 1,500 metres that is true competition: each one has earned the right to be there “on the blocks” because in that particular race and in that particular Olympic Games they are best eight swimmers in the world.

Turning now to an organisation, let’s look at eight sales people in one team. The team members have varying lengths of service and experience; however the longest-serving, best-networked sales person consistently sits on top of the league table and receives the rewards.   Yet, the most junior sales person in the team strives each month meeting their sales targets and consistently bettering their personal best figures from the previous month for six consecutive months, but receives no reward or recognition. How is this competition?

This type of competition drives people to achieve the outcomes that are measured, not those that matter. People are more likely to be focused on themselves and the need to win instead of delivering and achieving the team’s or organisation’s outcomes.

Competition can be beneficial, depending on the type and level of competition, through increasing productivity and efficiency which may in turn have a positive impact on revenue.   However, the dark side of competition within organisations can be unwittingly set up at any level; organisation, team or individual.

Ever wonder how silos form in organisations? Silos are created as people compete and move to protect “their turf” in order to win and maintain control. At the team level it can be destructive as it sets up a win/lose framework, and while the winners enjoy the victory the losers are plotting their overthrow which can occur in many ways – withholding essential information, cancelling key meetings, failing to share vital learning are just few that we have observed.

At the individual level it can be stressful when people are ranked. One-upmanship trumps a more collaborative approach and is often frustrating as people try to gain and hold favour, particularly with those who hold authority. Ultimately, it’s demotivating because individuals deem the evaluation criteria unfair because it is poorly designed and administered.

The one thing we have seen play out regularly is that if your organisation is under some performance duress then a competitive culture will be of little or no value to you. You are better to leave the competition on the sporting field and focus your efforts on your organisation’s competitors. Instead, foster a culture of achievement where outcomes, adding value, and making a difference, are mutually recognised and rewarded.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.