Is Friendly Competition Good for the Workplace?

March 4th, 2016

As manager, you’re constantly looking for ways to get more out of your employees without taxing your bottom line or pushing your teams past the limits of a healthy work-life balance. You want your teams to strive for excellence, and you want them to give 110 percent. But at the same time, you’ve been in this game long enough to recognize a point of diminishing returns; if you demand too much, your teams will push back, morale will suffer, turnover will increase, relationships and teamwork will fray, and ultimately the company will pay the price.

So when it comes to healthy competition, where do you draw the line? Should you encourage your teams to compete with each other for your approval? Or should you encourage collaboration? Use these guidelines to make your decision.

Situations vary.

Sometimes it’s better to push your employees into a cage match, and sometimes it’s better to discourage competition altogether. As with most workplace guidelines, success lies somewhere in the balance. Learn to distinguish the nuances that call for one approach or the other; and above all, stay fluid. Don’t let your approach– or your attitude toward competition– become entirely predictable.

Lean toward collaboration.

If you encourage too much collaboration in one scenario, you may have to make some difficult adjustments later on to bring out the competitive side in your teams. But the reverse scenario is generally harder. Turning friends against each other is easier then mending friendships that have been tarnished.

Push for external, not internal competition.

Build a culture of teamwork and collaboration, and if you feel like your employees need to hone their killer instincts, pit them against a competitor company, a competing market, a sales headwind, or a specific external challenge. Try not to turn them against each other unless you feel that you have to, or you’re certain that the cost and risk will be worth the long term reward. Again, it’s easy to bounce back from too much congeniality. It’s not easy to bounce back from too little.

Watch the line.

There are very few situations in which genuine distrust, backstabbing, upstaging, undermining, solitary all-nighters, and idea stealing are good for business. If you want your employees to outcompete each other, make sure they know the difference between healthy and unhealthy maneuvering. If they don’t, use your leadership skills to help them hit reset.

Choose team over individual competition.

If you’d like to encourage internal jockeying, consider dividing your employees into teams instead of individual players. Teamwork tends to bring out the best of both collaboration and competition.

For more on how to build productivity, confidence, trust and morale, turn to the Shelby management and staffing experts at PSU.

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