Competition is seen as a natural part of life and work. There is always a creation stage when an idea must compete for its place in the world. You have to compete for a new job. The entrepreneurial stage in business is when the start-up must prove it’s worth and activity is primarily about winning customers without which the product or service will not survive.
But not everybody enjoys competition whilst some people thrive on it. Leaders have to be careful that when they frame competition that it doesn’t create anxiety and negative impacts on people’s wellbeing.
Competition increases psychological and physiological activation and exercised correctly leads to creativity and supportive behaviours. Done incorrectly, competition leads to cheating and sabotage as we’ve witnessed by banks leading to long term pain for the organisation, employees and clients.
Competition needs to lead to happiness not humiliation if you want to get positive outcomes.
Here are some key points to consider.
Compete originates from the Latin Competere meaning to strive together to achieve a common purpose. Chances are that competition was a key driver of human progress along with the peak performance flow states that competition can engender. It is important to remember that humans collaborated their way to the top of the evolutionary tree, probably in friendly competition.
Introduce constraints and be clear about boundaries and ethical values that you are all agreed to upholding. Research has shown that saying the Lord’s Prayer before a competition decreased the cheating that took place by a group of students in a test when the answers were easily obtainable.
Open to Feedback
As a leader encourage the right behaviours and attitude by modelling them such as being open to feedback. Also, introduce the concept of ‘After Action Reviews’ so that the focus is on improving the behaviours and processes not just achieving the results. Keep it non-threatening and friendly.
Measure team results more than individual results so that the team members are mutually accountable to each other not a manager. Peer pressure is more effective than dominant pressure. We feel more compelled to help our own people more than a person who is not ‘one of us’.
Purpose vs Material
Make competition success about improvement and personal growth, don’t design rewards purely based on money or status. If you introduce monetary and status rewards then it can lead to jealousy and resentment. Peer-to-peer recognition is useful as we do enjoy basking in the limelight sometimes, even the quieter team members.
Regularly emphasise that the aim of competition is to encourage the pursuit of team excellence. If an individual achieves great results, that process should be modelled and shared with the other team members.
Brain storming sessions, quizzes around work, shared social experiences are all excellent ways to bring people together and build esprit de corps.
In military special forces units, hierarchy is shunned and people are recognised for their indivdual expertise. They’re not encouraged to be clones but have individual skills. If you promote egalitarianism and appreciation of individual strengths in your organisation, then it will encourage creative teamwork but harnessing that creativity is a skill.
Collective intelligence from a diverse group is just as effective as having a lone genius- and there aren’t many lone geniuses around- so work on boosting team engagement.
With everything that has happened this year and how that will impact us all going forward, when would now be a good time to make facilitating effective meetings, decision-making and learning to use collaboration tools for effective communication and coaching, a core competency in your business?
Interested in learning more? Mission Power meeting Facilitation Online Course