Competition or collaboration. Which do you choose?

grayscale photo of person holding glass

Competition. It would seem we humans are naturals at it. In today’s fast-paced world, it would seem to be a central element of human nature. However, it is not as much how we humans are wired as those who are so devoted to rugged individualism might like to think.

Humans are not the biggest, fastest, or strongest animals in the jungle. This fact made it imperative that they learned (evolved) to work together. When one cave person could not stalk the saber-tooth cat, many could. There is, in fact, a lot of research validating this. Much of our chemical makeup and social tendencies suggest that it is our collaborative inclinations rather than our competitive ones that have made us as successful in the evolutionary tale as we have been.

Now, while competition is not inherently bad and does contribute to much that is fun in life, it can be a detriment because it is inherently divisive. It supports a zero-sum game with only one winner, and while that game might work well as TV entertainment, it doesn’t work so well in the wilds of the jungle whether they are the prehistoric ones of our ancient past or the concrete ones of today.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is all about moving together as a strong unit. Unless everyone crosses the finish line together, there can be no winner.

Think about that when it comes to our workplaces. Imagine having a culture centered around everyone helping each other to be successful. Imagine hearing, “unless we all support and work for each other, none will reap rewards.”

And as far as measurable business benefits, there are many. Collaborative companies are more profitable, productive, and efficient. They have higher customer and employee satisfaction with less turnover in both of those camps as well.

So, with these benefits in hand, how do we move from competition to collaboration? Here are three ideas:

  1. Change the conversation. Make it clear daily that it’s not important who crosses the finish line first, it’s important that the organization crosses it as a whole.
  2. Foster collaboration by bringing representatives from different teams together as much as possible. For example, when the sales department needs to come up with ways to present a new product to customers, have people from, say, manufacturing, operations, marketing, and the shipping department join the discussion. You will get views and ideas that may diverge greatly from what your sales team sees all the time.
  3. Give your team members many tools to connect. With people working remotely from far flung parts of the company map, the more tools, the better. I am working right now with a couple of companies that have multiple ways for people to communicate and work together. From email to Microsoft Teams to Slack to Discord to Zoom, all afford potential for easily holding cross-functional dialogue at virtually any time.

When organizations prioritize collaboration in their messaging, encourage sharing perspectives from diverse constituents, and provide multiple channels for effortless communication, they can truly work together.

While a competitive work environment may drive results, it does so with fear-based methods that encourage individualism and divisiveness. Collaborative environments on the other hand drive results by way of positivity, teamwork, and creativity.

So, here’s a final question. Which spirit do you want for your employees knowing that that same sprit will spill out to your customers?

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