How leaders can strike the right balance

Competition versus teamwork is a hot topic, and leaders are wondering how to strike the right balance between competition as a motivator and collaboration to create stronger teams.

In recent years, leaders and senior managers have reassessed competition in workplace culture. This familiar dynamic is under scrutiny as organizations see the long-lasting effects of creating divisions in the workplace without also fostering collaboration.

How useful is it to promote and maintain an atmosphere of competition, and when does it become toxic and invite internal fighting and undermining?

Ideas around competition are further complicated by the paradoxical desire for teams to work collaboratively – how can leaders work towards a healthy balance between competition and collaborative teamwork? Unfortunately, most companies will choose one or the other: competition or teamwork, and rarely both.

Professionals are invested in their personal and professional development, and competition is a necessary motivator. For some, that means competing with others for sales numbers, titles, or leads on a project. For others, it means competing with older versions of themselves. Motivating and incentivizing employees can pivot the competition from person versus person to professional versus goal.

Finding that balance is the key to challenging teams, innovation, and strong collaboration for the good of the project and, ultimately, the organization. With too much competition, people feel pressure and stress as their main motivation. With too little competition, people can feel frustrated and bored.

How can leaders inspire healthy competition, promote continuous improvement, and encourage collaboration, all at the same time? By getting to know the strengths and challenges each team member brings to the table.

Encourage cross communication

Most professionals view networking as an outward looking activity. To effectively increase innovation and growth, leaders and their employees should network internally.

The more departments and teams interact with each other, the better the business overview they will have. It also allows individuals to get to know other employees who could be great resources for their projects and goals.

For example, people protect their time when working on projects and facing deadlines. They can ask if they need to attend meetings that don’t directly apply to the project they’re working on.

As a leader, you can give them a better answer other than it’s mandatory. Use these conversations as an example to change mindsets rather than being frustrated.

To change the mindset of your workers and colleagues, encourage them to see the workplace as a network of many avenues in which innovative ideas can be formed. When you think about how someone in a completely different department can be helpful to your growth, cross communication can get exciting.

Don’t wait for problems to become problems

Two working styles are often overlooked: your teams may either be rigidly focused on the work ahead of them, get the job done…or your teams may be used to assessing needs and issues that might arise to meet them. proactively.

This, again, is where cross-communication becomes invaluable, especially if you have new talent. For example, a data analyst may join the team with knowledge of data curation, processes, and systems that can help an entirely different department.

People are story sources, that means they come from other workplaces where issues have arisen that they can now prevent in their current organization.

It is also helpful to reflect and take stock of all the facts before jumping straight into launching a new idea or project. Teams should first sit down and make comprehensive lists of how something can go wrong and all the possible solutions. This way you find the right balance between competition – successful projects mean individual achievements – and collaboration.

Encourage teamwork over ego

Competition is naturally driven by ego; if people don’t get their fair share of credit, it will only breed resentment. Leaders need to move towards goal prioritization – getting the job done is more important than making sure they got it done first.

Competitive attitudes toward granting and receiving credit can come dangerously close to stress. “If I am not recognized as the one who will solve this problem, my work will seem worthless”, can turn into stress related to the loss of one’s job. When someone is individually recognized at the table, it can create ego-driven frustration from others who have not been recognized.

If leaders make employees feel that they must constantly strive to outdo their colleagues, leaders risk making employees feel overworked with little reward.

Also, the ego-driven worker or leader will not take feedback or criticism at all. No matter what level you’re working on, being defensive is the number one killer or progress. Whether you’re trying to be competitive or collaborative or both, your skills aren’t going anywhere if you can’t be open-minded about what you’re told.

Maintain boundaries

Leaders are responsible for elevating their teams so that everyone is equally motivated to achieve the goals and milestones of a company’s overall mission. But it also means that they have to empower themselves and others. This is where boundaries come in: whether you are a leader or an executive, you should empower your employees to draw their boundaries. Teach them how to politely and professionally handle their problems and nip others’ selfish behaviors in the bud.

One of the biggest ways to stunt personal growth is when you feel like your boundaries are being crossed or your talents are being used for someone else’s growth. When people feel like their time is respected, they are more likely to engage in healthy competition that is less ego-driven and more driven by a collaborative mindset.

Put together

It is possible to foster a collaborative environment, encourage communication and use competition as motivation without destroying morale. Keep respect, individual talents, group good, and project goals above personal ego or victory. When teams work together dynamically, they create great things without destroying a supportive work environment.


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