Great Teamwork: Competitive or Collaborative?

Great Teamwork: Competitive or Collaborative?

“Is great teamwork competitive or collaborative?”   This is the one question I still face after 20 years of team-building in corporations across diverse industries.  In today’s tough economy with great business challenges, the question is front and center once again.

It is popular right now to call for collaboration – in politics, in government, and in business.  Yet are your team members more frightened by the potential for job loss than they are inspired by success through collaboration? The old belief, knowledge is power, may be a hidden yet active virus affecting how far your teams go in collaboration.

Some tangible examples.  Which category on this list applies to you?

Sales Departments Your company wants to capture a new sector.  There is a learning curve involved.  Are your Sales Reps sharing knowledge learned with all the other reps to help the company reach its goal of capturing a new sector?  Or are they tempted to share less in a competitive team atmosphere to achieve individual sales goals?

Customer Service Solution Centers: Solution Centers and Help Desks are the front lines of service to customers and clients.  Customer satisfaction goes up the sooner the rep can accurately solve the problem.  When a rep receives a call s/he doesn’t know how to solve, do other reps freely offer their knowledge and creative problem solving?  Or do they focus on their own calls and follow-throughs to be ranked high in # of calls taken and closed?  Do you inspire knowledge sharing?

Project Teams: Years back in IT, I was on several project teams.  Many were collaborative because all the pieces had to fit together for the project to succeed.  Yet I recall two project teams where knowledge didn’t flow.  The reply instead was “Give that piece to me and I will do it.”  Those of us sharing knowledge spoke to our manager about this concern.  His response was: Well some people don’t like to share their knowledge.  His comment was a small revelation about his beliefs on teamwork.

As a leader, how can you assess whether your teams are more collaborative or competitive?

In your next team meeting, have team members discuss a current team issue which affects them individually and about which they have differing opinions. Have them come up with possible solutions.  Observe how they interact and what solutions they develop. It will give you insight on how they balance their individual needs vs. coming up with solutions that meet the team goal.  Are they more competitive or collaborative in their approach?  Would their solutions bring team success?  Did they meet your expectations for team collaboration or competition?

How can you unearth if the knowledge is power virus is alive on your teams?

Hold a “Food for Thought” symposium. In advance of this meeting, send out an invitation to each team member asking them to create a “menu” of 5 knowledge items they will share with the rest of the team. Purpose of the symposium: to strengthen everyone’s knowledge and performance.

  • Item #1 should be a true “food” item they like to eat. For this item, they must outline what they like about the food, a very short history of that food, and how long they have eaten it. Have fun with this segment. It creates a positive environment and team interaction.
  • Items #2-4 must be job related knowledge. Each team member takes turns presenting her/his menu and fielding questions.
    Observe the depth of knowledge team members share. Do some contribute only surface level knowledge? Or are most engaged in true knowledge sharing?

This Food for Thought symposium also builds awareness of who knows what for subsequent teamwork, can develop presentation skills, and connects a fun vibe to knowledge sharing.

You are welcome to share this info with other people, on other blogs, on other website, and in articles.  I ask only that you credit me as the source with URL link ( to continue sharing.

Discussion and Comments

So what is your philosophy of teamwork?  Teams use different approaches.  I would love to have your questions, comments, and perspectives here.  I encourage debate.  I ask only that it is civil.  Despite the online trend toward wild sometimes insulting exchanges, I think people can hear better when they are not insulted.

  1. Does a competitive spirit between team members strengthen teamwork and morale?
  2. Does individual competition between team members inspire them to work harder and smarter?
  3. Would it be better to have a collaborative spirit to help each other rather than compete with each other on a team?
  4. Are you seeing knowledge sharing on teams that are pressed to do more with less in this economy?

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Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
Thanks for 20 years and counting …
MA Organizational Psychology

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