Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Three C's of Team and Organizational Wisdom

"Compete with your competitors, but collaborate with your customers, and cooperate with your colleagues."

Competition.  You see it at home in children.  It's called sibling rivalry.  It is natural.  You see it at school with students.  The school system instills it in us and reinforces it.  At work, bosses insist on it.  Competition is the name of the game.  "Winning" as Charlie Sheen calls it.  I see it in the workplace.  It's everywhere.  It particularly comes out when resources are scarce.  I win, you lose.  It is the law of the jungle.  It gets played out in every company there is.

Unfortunately, my experience as a corporate consultant has been that in the workplace, this type of "winner take all, all the time" mentality is very destructive and is likely to keep your company from succeeding and being profitable.  I have seen it time and time again.

Why?  Because the competitive behavior that has been learned so well is difficult to tone down, even when it is necessary for success.  In order for companies to be successful they have to rein in their competitive streaks, at least internally with customers and colleagues. But, most bosses, businesses and organizations don't believe it...until it is too late.    

So, several years ago, I developed a game, "Pass and Shoot," that I play with teams during team training and retreats, etc.  This game is derived from the Prisoner's Dilemma game that was popular years ago.  At the beginning of the game, the instructions are to win.  The way to win is through trust, cooperation, communication, information sharing.  Teams can win if they are willing to cooperate and communicate, rather than being naturally adversarial and overly competitive.  However, once the players' competitive juices (and a little paranoia) start to flow, it is very difficult to control.  Players in the game with do whatever is necessary to avoid cooperation and will find it more important to block another team from looking good, rather than work for a win-win scenario (which is what the stated objective of the game is).  In most instances, participants would bet on their instinct to mistrust and protect.  They would rather see the entire ship go down than let down their guard and collaborate.  

"Pass and shoot" and other games of this type prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that competitive instincts are very difficult to control and can be the downfall of most teams if one is not aware of the pitfalls and consequences.

So, what is to be done?  First of all understand that the competitive nature of humans must be acknowledged as well as harnessed and directed at the competition outside the company not within the company or with customers.  Secondly, make sure that people learn how to collaborate with customers to determine what they need and how they need it delivered. After all, you are there for the customer and the customer is buying your product or service with their money. Thirdly, it is important to curb your competitive nature when working with colleagues. You need each other to succeed.  Lastly, though it is difficult to do, it is more important that you work toward a common goal than it is to be seen as an overly competitive, stab you in the back person who loses control, steps on others, assumes the worst of others and can't "play in the sandbox."

So, like I said, remember:  Be competitive with competitors, but be collaborative with customers and cooperative with colleagues.  Doing anything else will jeopardize your team and create barriers to success.

What do you think?  




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