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Opposing forces - Collaboration or Competition?


Opposing forces - Collaboration or Competition?

One of the fundamental decisions in designing your HR processes is: Do you want to foster Collaboration or Competition?

In previous articles I have dwelt on problems – now I shall start giving back, with one or two solutions that might be appropriate in some contexts.

Much of the way we deal with people starts from a presupposition of competitiveness – we want to get the best people, to reward and promote them.

Yet we also say we value Teamwork, we want “Team Players”. Requiring collaborative behaviour while rewarding competitive behaviour is, well let’s face it, not very smart.

For some businesses and some roles, competitive behaviour is desired; if this is always going to be your situation, you need read no further. Here I consider what we may do in the other situations where collaborative behaviour is desired.

Fostering Team Collaboration

There are many cases where, if we want the products or outcomes we want, the people doing the work need to work as a team, to collaborate toward the goal. So, why can’t we assess the team as a whole? Well, there are a few serious reasons why not, but we will address why these are not so important in later articles.

Assessing teams as a whole gives team members incentives to assess and assist each other so all team members can work effectively. This builds good, eventually great, teams. This suits where the teams are empowered to take a considerable degree over individual and team development, it suits the Complex domains we talked about in earlier articles and it can be helpful in both Complicated and Chaotic domains.

Some people desire individual recognition and to be part of a good team is not enough; even if within the team their individual worth is lauded. There are things the organization can do to address this, as we will see in later articles. However we have to accept that some individuals are not happy as team members but prefer individual glory. The competitive life suits them. Others flourish in the sense of belonging that comes with being an integrated member of a successful team.

But if we don’t do individual appraisals, how do we know what a person is worth? Well, try paying them enough that money is no longer an issue, and increasing their worth to the point where you have no problem justifying their pay.

Collaborative working is a great way to transfer knowledge and grow expertise within the team; people tend to get better faster.

What about the ‘bad egg’? It can happen that individuals will not co-operate or collaborate, and the team feels that this individual is bringing their overall standards down by an unacceptable level. While it should be used sparingly, the team needs some ability to vote an individual off the team. It might be wise to associate some small ‘cost’ to the team when taking such an action to ensure such an approach is not used lightly.  

What about the Managers?

Although there are a considerable number of organizations or departments appraising teams as a whole rather than individually, many of these do not take the logical step of applying the same solution to the team leaders and project managers. Suppose instead of appraising a Manager based on how well his team is doing, we appraise them based on how well the group of teams he and his peer managers look after, are performing?

Much as we foster collaborative work and addressing issues within the team, we can treat a group of Managers as a team and foster collaboration between them to ensure all the teams are doing well.

You now have the expertise of a group of Managers to draw on whenever problems arise; no team is held ransom to the shortfalls of an individual Manager; all teams benefit from the expertise of an exceptional Manager. We are eliminating the “Single Point of Failure” (another topic we will return to in later articles).


If you want to foster competition you need to ‘manage’ people in a way that gives your people incentives to collaborate, rather than to compete. Measuring the team rather than the individual is one practice in the toolbox that can be used to this end. It can be applied at different levels within the organization. It does bring up many other questions that will need to be addressed.

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