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“Isn’t competitiveness good at work?”

I was asked this question while debriefing a business simulation where one of the participating teams had changed both their strategy and their behaviour in response to their performance in the first round.

To quickly set the scene, there were a number of teams participating in a business simulation: each team had to develop and implement a strategy that would be executed over three rounds. At the end of each round teams received feedback on their strategic effectiveness and results, and were given an opportunity to adjust and fine tune their approach. The team I am referencing was running third at the end of round one and decided to go head to head competitively with the team in the lead. At the end of the second round they were bitterly disappointed because despite their highly competitive approach they were now ranked last.

So what is the answer to “isn’t competitiveness good at work?” The answer is, “it depends”.

Healthy competition can be positive as it fuels creativity, lifts quality, and can help develop some essential individual and team skills needed for innovation, such as thinking outside the square and relying on instinct and intuition. Framed correctly, healthy competition does two things simultaneously – people support each other and at the same time push each other to elicit each member’s best performance so that the team achieves synergy – you know, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So what is the flipside? First we have to remember that the motivation for being competitive is extrinsically motivated or outer directed and when it gets out of hand it leads to rivalling or vying behaviours. If unchecked it can degenerate into adversarial behaviours with individuals and teams operating in a win-lose framework which is what happened to our team in question. This can lead to unrealistic self-induced performance pressures, loss of motivation and morale, team members becoming loners, and teams moving from a collaborative to a silo attitude and approach.

If you find you, your team, or parts of your organisation drifting towards competitiveness and moving beyond healthy levels, consider the following:

  • Accept there will be some level of competitiveness present, it’s inevitable. It’s recognising when it’s getting out of hand and then knowing how to manage it that’s key
  • Be careful what you or your team are comparing yourself to, it might just be mediocrity
  • Keep perspective. Just because someone else wins, it does not mean you are facing failure
  • Go back to your strategy and consider what’s working and where change or correction is necessary
  • Build off your strengths individually as team members and collectively as a team
  • Consider where you place your focus. What’s more important; winning, or achieving the required results that you committed to delivering?

So what happened to our team which was ranked last?

When they realised their focus had shifted to a ‘win at an all costs’ mentality they went back and reaffirmed the team’s purpose, they realigned their strategy, utilised individual and collective strengths, and committed to working collaboratively to achieve a common goal. Were they the topped ranked team at the end of the third round? No, they were in second position and satisfied with their results, the quality of what they produced, and with their relationships. Most of all, they were wiser for having shared the experience of what results when the competitive mindset becomes unhealthy.


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.

 

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