Is competition causing your team more harm than good?

Many moons ago I was managing a team where there was a bit of tension between two specific sub-groups.

All the members of the team were incredibly skilled but their jobs in servicing the clients were marginally different. One sub-group had more day to day contact with clients and so had a lot of valuable practical knowledge and often very strong networks; while the other sub-group dealt with the more pointy end of the work that required their expert knowledge in order to ensure a great outcome for the client.

Both sub-groups needed each other in order to provide the best customer service delivery outcomes for our clients; but these sub-groups seemed to jostle for the position of who was most valuable to the team.

I have always been of the view that all members of a team are equally important; but most of us have healthy egos and we sometimes want to be seen as being the most important part of our team.

As managers we need to nurture these relationships and find ways to leverage the best outcomes for all members of the team and subsequently our clients.

So I developed a simple plan to create a more united front between these two incredibly important sub-groups – I created a buddy system.

I buddied up each member of the hands on practical sub-group with a member of the expert sub-group.  The expectation was that these small buddy teams would case manage each difficult case together; they started to actively share their knowledge, they mentored each other up and down the line. They developed strong relationships and they actively sought each other for advice.  Moreover they presented their work and findings together to the rest of the group.

Some of the buddy arrangements were quite flexible; but everyone acknowledged that the two sub-groups needed to work together to ensure the best outcomes for our clients.

It worked a treat! The morale of the team lifted and there was significantly more sharing of information and informal training taking place.

Competition within a team might generate more sales or higher productivity over a short period of time; but it is not sustainable. It can lead to high levels of conflict between team members, social isolation and sometimes despair that you will never be able to beat the leaders in the group.

For example, every football team has at least two main forwards, both wanting to be recognised for the title of leading goal kicker. But what’s most important to the the team is how many goals the team kicks during a game, not who kicked them.

So if we focus on the main prize which is our shared goal, then we can meet the needs of all of the team; that is the opportunity to truly belong and to be appreciated by the team.

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