I get asked a bunch of questions about… you know… stuff. And in the early morning hours I enjoy responding (hopefully) thoughtfully and thoroughly. A couple members of my team suggested I start sharing my advice. Previous AMA’s are here. So, without further ado, please enjoy this installment of Ask MilEs Anything:
A reader asked me: “How do you encourage your work team to collaborate and not compete?”
It’s not uncommon, sometimes we can be really cut throat at work. It can be extremely frustrating, unpleasant, and one reason why employees quit their jobs. And now, out of the other side of my mouth I will say that competition can be a healthy thing.
We improve what we measure and reward and that can come from (healthy) competition.
I’m going to suggest a healthy and sustainable way for you to bridge the gap between collaboration and competition and I hope you find it useful. Some of our clients have tried it and enjoyed it and I think you will too.
First and foremost, what is it we’re trying to make happen in the spirit of the competition? Do you know what it is you’re measuring from them? Do they know what they’re competing to achieve? Make sure the rules of the competition are clear as Caribbean waters.
Second, make sure your long-term plan is flexible. Don’t keep the competitions the same. Don’t get too focused on having them once a month. Maybe we’re going to do this right now, then next month we’re going to do this, and then maybe make it a week, and then maybe make it six weeks. Think of different unusual contests to have. Keep it fresh and keep it fun.
Third, build smaller teams. If you have 40 employees have 10 teams of four one time, four teams of 10 another time, five teams of eight another time. Always be shuffling up the teams to consist of different members and make sure those members are from different departments inside your organization (this is important). By changing up the teams the focus remains on collaboration while still having a spirit of competition.
However, the ultimate goal, whether it be revenue, number of units moved, net profit, or just embodying a core value, doesn’t change.
I was speaking with Laura, our Chief Plate Spinner, about this topic recently and she had a great example. An office where she previously worked was having issues with tension and unhealthy competition between departments. To turn the negativity into a more positive competitive environment, they broke the entire team into 4 different cross-departmental teams. Each team was assigned a date and given a budget and their task was to plan a team building evening for the whole office. Then, they were scored on their event and the winning team got a cash prize.
The goal was to bring the whole team together and channel that competition into something that would benefit everyone mutually.
By mixing departments within the teams it gave them a chance to work directly with teammates that may not normally collaborate with. As a result they had some wonderful ideas and the whole team got to enjoy a murder mystery dinner, a casino night, a behind the scenes look at a local restaurant, and a board game night. In the words of Michael Scott, it was a win-win-win.
Now, I am not saying you need a big budget for this. Google is your friend here. Look for things that others have already done that can help your team in fun but focused ways to work together while still enjoying all of the benefits (both personal and professional) of competition. I think you’ll be amazed by the results.