To Compete or Collaborate?

Competition is a strength that helps people to be successful in sports and beyond. When used optimally, competition energizes, creates fun, and helps individuals and teams to elevate their performance.

On the other hand, collaboration also has advantages. Collaboration broadens ideas, expands capacity, and allows for innovation that may not occur when working independently or competitively.

Collaboration and competition used together can produce synergistic results. Imagine the performance possibilities for a baseball team featuring a great collaboration between pitcher and catcher. Take it a step further and imagine the whole team is smoothly collaborating in both offense and defense. In contrast, if the infield was competing with the outfield, what impact would that have on team effectiveness?

In the workplace, team composition may not always be so apparent.   Team members may be spread between departments or organizations.  Furthermore, competition and collaboration may seem mutually exclusive if we compete for recognition, promotions and/or scarce resources even if we share common organizational or discipline-specific goals.

In addition, both competition and collaboration sound good in theory, but are often difficult to execute optimally. Inappropriate competitiveness can be viewed as self-serving. Collaboration may feel risky since sharing ideas or personal information can result in abuse of that trust.

It’s way too easy to fall into the mistrust/compete-with-peers/zero-sum mindset. Instead, perhaps that competition could be directed to my/our previous performance.  In addition, I could reframe my competitor as a collaborator that will help me to compete against another organization or industry (think: merger). Furthermore, how far can I expand the team umbrella, and thus the reach of the team? Being inclusive and sharing the opportunity tends to produce win-wins rather than win-lose situations.

Sharing also means risk, which means that sometimes you’ll get burned. However, consider the consequences of playing it too safe. What opportunities are you missing? Failing to collaborate or compete also has a cost that may be underappreciated. For example, I don’t like the risk of the stock market but not investing at all ensures that I will have financial loss over time as inflation eats away at the value of my money in my mattress.

In the end, like all things, finding the right balance between collaboration and competition takes wisdom and courage. The ups and downs are par for the course, but will make you wiser in the next round.  And celebrating that win is so much sweeter when done together.

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