“The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”—Howard Cosell
Competition is an inevitable part of life. You’ve probably felt competitive with your siblings when you were younger, or against peers and friends in school. If you played sports, you know the high that winning against a rival can bring, or the crushing sense of defeat when you don’t. And at work, you compete all the time—with a different company, with different teams for perks and bonuses, and with your colleagues in order to get a promotion.
Feeling competitive is wired into our DNA for survival, and it is what has driven biological and psychological evolution for humans.
It can be a great extrinsic motivator (striving to become the top performer to get that bonus/reward at work) or a form of intrinsic motivation (the sense of achievement of beating a rival or achieving a personal goal).
Whether your motivation for the competition is extrinsic or intrinsic, it has both positive and negative aspects, especially at work.
Competition motivates everyone to do their best. This is how businesses competing in the same industry manage to come up with innovations, and how managers can motivate their employees to raise productivity.
As individuals, having a rival they can look to as both a challenge and a benchmark can help push them to grow further, whether in sports or other aspects.
It increases motivation, stimulates creativity, enhances performance, and provides us with a specific objective to work toward. And the rewards we reap provide us with a sense of fulfillment and joy. Sometimes, competitions themselves can even be fun and are a great way to build closer relationships, at work or outside the office.
However, competitions also come with some drawbacks.
When there is a competition, two or more people in similar categories clash and fight to come out on top. By design, there is always a winner and a loser when we compete, and no one wants to be on the losing side.
This can cause anxiety and conflict between competing parties or individuals.
Sometimes, that anxiety causes self-doubt and other negative thoughts and feelings that can become distractions and obstacles that result in poor performance.
Internal competition in groups and organizations can lead to conflict, hostility, and unhealthy behaviors that impede teamwork and even negatively impact the workplace environment and overall productivity of the organization.
Conflicts between rival parties can quickly turn personal during competitions, leading to a toxic culture.
Since competition is unavoidable in the workplace, how can we weigh its benefits and drawbacks in order to use it to propel us toward our objectives without harming the workplace environment?
The first thing within our control is our mindset. Studies show that the way we look at competition (as a threat or a challenge) changes the way we feel about it and the results we get.
When we see our competitors as a threat, it results in most of the negative by-products of competition that we listed above. But when we look at competition as a challenge that we overcome, it is easier to avoid unnecessary conflict. Even though conflicts will inevitably arise, there are ways to foster constructive competition among peers and coworkers.
Educating your team on how to constructively disagree with both members of their own team or department and those from other teams or departments. It's easier to avoid conflict and increase motivation by designing a good compensation structure that encourages healthy workplace competition.
Friendly competition that is non-work related also helps promote camaraderie and is a great way to have fun and engage your employees.
A workplace environment that values competition among coworkers and mutual respect also contributes to a healthy work environment.
Lastly, remember that you are not only in competition with others. You are also competing with your past self. By working continuously on improving yourself, and stretching your goals, you raise the bar overall within the organization. This can help motivate individual growth and personal and professional development.
A good feedback system is required for this to work. Everyone can be held accountable for their roles when they receive frequent, accurate, and honest feedback, which also offers a comprehensive assessment of their development.
Celebrating your wins, big or small, as individuals and as a team, helps raise morale, build trust and better relationships, and motivate everyone for the next sprint.
Thank you for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”