Is Competition Really a Good Thing?

Yesterday I waxed lyrical a bit about my feelings regarding team building, and the competitive nature of most team building exercises. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not all for healthy competition – in fact, the real estate industry is one of the most competitive I’ve come across as I discuss on Monday! - and I was thinking about this last night, so I’ve decided to write more about it today. 


Competition is a sign of passion, which is both valuable and necessary in the workplace, and that’s why most team building activities revolve around it – the desire to win makes staff focused and active, and that’s generally what management wants to see. My point remains however, that it’s what you want to see from people in their everyday work, not when they’re beating the living daylights out of each other with an inflatable baseball bat while they’re navigating a plank of wood balancing over a swimming pool.  


Most organisations work to targets, whether they be performance or sales based, and this creates competition. We do the same at CENTURY 21. There is a very specific set of criteria in place that rewards those who achieve certain levels of performance, whether from sales, community involvement, adaptation of new technologies etc. Putting measures in place to encourage staff to achieve goals is certainly a form of competition, but from what I can see, there are a few key issues with introducing a heightened level of competition into the workplace. What I mean by that is pitting employees against each other in order to introduce the level of passion you actually want to see in their work. 


Here are my biggest issues with competitive events: 


Firstly, as much as it makes me sound like a stick in the mud, can I just say that many are a total waste of time. As I said yesterday, I’m all for Friday drinks or the regular staff BBQ, but spending half a day running around a paddock with paint guns is not actually helping your business, and its not helping employees interact with each other in a helpful and mutually beneficial way. Amazingly, most employees actually want to do good work, and many would rather take part in an activity that helps them grow professionally or gives them information they can actually use in their jobs. 


Secondly, it has the potential to bring out the worst in people. I read a wonderful little tale about a CEO who was on the brink of hiring someone, but just wasn’t 100% sure. So, he invited the candidate to a company softball game where the prospective staff member carried on like a right banana, abusing the referees and his opponents and yelling at his own team. He was basically competitive to the point of being manic, and he was not employed. 


Finally, it’s been studied and proven that people actually learn less when they’re competing, and cooperative environments are more conducive to achievement  Cooperative learning has been studied in classrooms, and one 10 year old described this method of working in a quote I don’t think I could alter to be any more apt: “It’s like you have four brains.”  


Now apply that to however many brains you actually have in your office and it’s indeed a powerful machine!  
Posted by Charles Tarbey on 24/03/2009 at 8:39 AM | Categories:


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