Collaborative Competition

It seems that this is not an original idea, but I thought I would share my view of the concept of Collaborative Competition here and see how others think about it and use it as well.

In the Army, I can’t think of a better example of Collaborative Competition than the US Special Forces units we deploy. Their full time job is to be the best that they can be at their jobs. They are always working on their battle drills, weapons training, and individual skills (language, Military Occupational Specialty, etc.) regularly to keep their skills sharp. However, it is always their buddies who will call them out on deficiencies as they see them. Their buddies’ criticism will not be taken as a personal attack on their professionalism either. The corrections will be taken in the positive peer pressure manner they are intended, and the individual will work on the deficiency as needed because they have a personal pride in doing their best and never letting the team down. The team is also far more capable than any individual and each member is cross trained on the tasks and skills that some of the others are meant to handle. In other words, the primary skill set for one person is a secondary skill set for another on the team. This cross training also is not thought of as a threat to the individual who has the main task to complete. The redundancy is welcomed as a safety net in case of something goes wrong during a mission. These redundancies allow the team to be very agile on the battle field no matter what happens. The team is greater than any one individual’s skills and each person holds the others accountable to be at their best. It is of a wholly collaborative and competitive environment all at once. This seems like a duality, but nothing could be further from the truth, and it could the same in business and in life.

While most employees fear competition and collaboration because they fear their very jobs are at stake. And this could be very true. If you are concerned about competition at work, then the environment has been built in such a way as to create negative competition. Collaboration with fellow employees or other departments will always be slower in these environments because they will always think that if they allow others to have the credit for good performance then their own performance will not be recognized. I had one employee tell me once, “Don’t help the new guy or else the boss will think that he is as good or better than you – and then you won’t be needed anymore!” What an oppressive and near-sighted way of thinking, right?! However, it is reality in many companies throughout the world and is widely accepted as the “right” way to think.

Consider the following article from the Harvard Business Review:

What were the main ideas? What did the article say about solving problems across disciplines? How can that be applied within your organization? (Notice I did not say: Why can you not apply these ideas within your organization.)

In the movie A Beautiful Mind (loosely based on the life of John Nash), Russell Crowe playing the lead role says that his original idea is that “People should do what is (simultaneously) best for themselves and for all of those around them.” This idea exemplifies the basic rule of collaborative competition that should be followed in business and in life to benefit all organizations.