During my early working days, I was part of a department that had six teams. There was quite an animosity between the teams. So much so that the teams were in silos. Each of these teams had a technical lead. There was a management layer that consisted of the technical leads from each of the team. These leads were expected to work together in synergy however, the reality was far from it. There was competition, however, it was far from healthy.
Some words, though well meaning, have somehow gained notoriety owing to the context in which they are used and how they have been perceived by others. Similar tofeminism, Competition is one word that has taken a beating in recent years. Competition induces a negative emotion only because rather than fostering improvement, it’s expected outcome is either winners or losers. Or so people think it does.
But where would we be without competition? Had our ancestors not competed for limited resources, including a mate, we would have been a different species today. But back then it was between you and me and only one would get whatever they competed for. Competition may be a bad word in academics (no wonder most of the institutes today have done away with ranking and have adopted the grading system, but that somehow robbed the thrill of being toppers), but in today’s workplace, competition ought not be that negative-emotion-triggering word. It just can’t be that.
Competition brings out the best in all those who are part of a task or project. It considers participation of three actors- two players and one observer who decides who won. Can workplaces be fraught with such an atmosphere? Competition at workplace better be healthy or it turns nasty, ruining teams and denting employee morale. So leaders play the key role in creating an atmosphere of healthy competition that eggs you to outperform yourself. It should ideally be with your own self rather than others, to become better versions. It must be a tool to bring out the best, for collaboration and cooperation would otherwise be so boring.
What competitions should not be
- It should not pit one team member against the other where one is deemed to have won and the other lost.
- It shouldn’t be a conflict.
- It shouldn’t determine your place in the organization.
- There shouldn’t be people taking side. An organization is a whole unit, there can never be sides to be taken.
- An exercise where someone wins something at the cost of the other. Losing creates unwanted anxiety and leads to jealousy and negative feelings.
What competition ought to be
- An opportunity to see how we can better ourselves every day, from one project and task to the other.
- A tool to identify potential leaders and smart performers.
- A tool to differentiate between good performance and not so good performance and decide rewards adequately.
- A platform to prepare teammates for future challenges.
- An instrument to actively seek feedback and make use of it constructively and grow.
In the corporate world, one can never avoid competition. In a knowledge economy, your next competitor could be your colleague, your friend, your partner or even another company. The only way to stay ahead of competition is to better your performance and efforts through new learning and avoiding past mistakes. Taking the team along as you embark on this path is the key to acing the business.
11 Practical tips to foster healthy competition within your team
- Make roles clear from the outset. When members know who does what, it sets accountability
- Have a clear communication about the resources available to every member and how best to utilize them.
- Do not ever take the steam out of competition by saying that it is not. Let people know they are competing for it fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. In the absence of competition, people will never be forced to look beyond the obvious.
- Create an environment of crediting the best performer and basing rewards on the outcomes.People thrive on praise and rewards, and when they know what they would gain by accomplishing something, it motivates them further. Setting goals and objectives, providing a realistic time-frame, resources and training, helping course correction allows everyone to participate fully in the game.
- No amount of team-building exercises will suffice if the leaders are biased and take sides. The best way to let your team know you’re standing behind everyone, is to be seen.
- Have healthy communication with each member. Allow them to express their doubts, apprehensions and fears, address issues that they deem essential. Even employees who speak openly with each other, encourage each other, seek and give constructive feedback and in general have open discussions and debates, mitigate the negativity associated with competition.
- Provide timely feedback to all irrespective of whether it is sought.
- Not all people appreciate and can be a part of healthy competition. It is important to identify such people and either make them aware and comfortable about the same or keep them away. Obviously there will be a limit to how far such people can go by avoiding healthy competition at the work place. While some feel motivated by competition, few others get bogged down, feel dejected, afraid or envious about the same thing.
- Let competition not be a perpetual emotion at the work place. Too much of anything would always be an unwelcome fact. Let competition be about specific tasks and outcomes, not a continuous undercurrent.
- While celebrating winners, leaders must ensure that losers should not be let down. In the end, whoever wins has brought victory for the purpose of the organization. It never was about personal victories, anyway, isn’t it?
- There must be occasions and opportunities galore where all team members can interact with each other without the weight of competition looming over their heads at all times. Remember, competition can be about a task or a project or outcome, it cannot be pervasive and have a blanket impact on your personal lives as well. Keep it to office and learn to be good friends and colleagues at other times.
Though it is an era of collaboration, one cannot discount the role of healthy competition in the corporate world. Competition keeps everyone, people and companies alike, on their feet and does not let complacency creep in. It also fosters creativity and innovation and in the end, benefits all. The joy that it brings to those who outperform themselves is a bonus!
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