People continually make choices, selecting responses from their existing set of “behavioral alternatives” and often simply choosing to do what they have done before. The book, Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman does an excellent job of sharing the research on decision making and thinking. (I share a little of this in my article on Square Wheels and decision-making.)
Teams and teamwork are simply about choice and choices. Teams will often choose NOT to collaborate if they feel that competition offers them more positive benefits and impacts and this is especially true if they have competed in the past — it is the fast decision that does not require much thinking and consideration. Competition may also simply be More Fun!
But does competition really do much to support overall organizational results? Does competition really make results better when you look at the overall impact? Does competition between sales and operations really help things?
More often than not, the answer is that competition measurably sub-optimizes organizational results. Clearly. This is grounded in my work in implementing performance improvement and customer service as well as in a variety of other contexts — it is much easier to generate inter-organizational competition than it is to develop real trust and collaboration.
I tried to collect some of the key articles around performance and teamwork in this annotated blog of my best posts on our team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. You can see some of these sources by clicking on the image below:
We often ask tabletops to discuss various real world perceptions after playing this team building exercise. Below are some thoughts of participants after playing The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses directly on issues of inter-table collaboration and communications:
As you will see from these responses, there are a lot of systemic issues that block teamwork and there are also lots of experiences in “playing the game of working” that will get in the way of simply choosing to do things differently. Breaking the patterns is why an exercise like Dutchman works – people play, make choices, and see the impacts of their behavior on the play of others and in the overall sub-optimization of results.
Why do teams compete when collaboration obviously offers more impacts and benefits?
- Evaluation and Reward Systems do not support it
- Organizational objectives are unclear
- Human Nature – we are competitive
- Past Experience precludes collaboration and has rewarded competition
- Lack of a Trust or Relationship with others
- It takes extra time and effort to do it
- Benefits of collaboration not supported by leaders
- Impacts and payoffs are not obvious
- Conflict may generate discussion of realities and produce creativity
- Teams do not have a history or experience with doing collaboration or generating better impacts by it
What did you learn about teamwork and communications from playing the exercise?
- There is a need for networking
- Small teams work better than committees / larger teams
- Someone needs to take on the role of team leader
- We must compromise individually and collaborate collectively to succeed
- Don’t dominate – listen to others views
- THINK COLLABORATION and Trust
- Share a common goal
- Share Ideas and Information
- Plan before Acting
- Have a division of labor and roles and think creatively
- Initiate support from others
- Have Empathy for others
- Identify others’ needs
- Be Creative
- Be a good listener
- Build on others’ ideas
- Recognize Interdependence
- Move quickly, take some risks
- We probably have sufficient resources – use them wisely
In this game, most people do NOT ask for help, which also happens in the workplace. Why don’t most teams ask for or get the active leadership of their managers?
- We are conditioned by education, bad experiences and culture
- Personality (we’re not proactive but quiet)
- We’re too involved in our own work and forget the existence of the “Expedition Leaders”
- We’re afraid of losing time, thus we suboptimize results
- We are really not clear of our roles or the Leader’s role
- There is a fear of losing Face (ego, insecurity)
- There is an assumption that not asking means we get all of the praise and recognition for our good performance / ability
- “Us and Them” mentality — Leader is not part of team
- No access to them – can’t get their time so why ask
- It’s not part of the rules of how we play
- Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled
Some Key Learning Points for engaging and involving people in performance improvement:
- Visions are critical for motivation
- Motivation occurs when people share risks, goals and objectives
- Teams are “naturally” competitive and processes must actively drive collaboration and cooperation
- Teams only reluctantly ask Expedition Leaders for advice.
- Leadership must clearly communicate with directness and honesty. They need to be perceived as supportive.
- Justify the need for collaboration as it influences corporate profitability and improvements in systems and practices.
- Identify the mud that is bogging teams down and wasting resources.
- Insure that each participant knows his or her role on the team and their importance to the overall results — make sure each team member feels that their efforts are of value.
How does this exercise and debriefing link to improving organizational results?
- Collaborative, overall effort is needed to achieve Company Goals
- Plan – Do – Check – Action
- Collaboration is essential
- Manage your processes with effective allocation of resources
- Do It Right The First Time – there are few second chances in reality
- Highlight the internal customer concept – we depend on each other
- All of us is better than Some of US!
The competitive aspect of the game:
How might it be harmful in an organization?
- Not sharing information for personal reasons will sub-optimize overall results
- Damaging relationships and trust
- Duplication of efforts
- Not utilizing resources in best or optimal way
- Sub-optimization — Not seeing whole picture
- Undermining the efforts of others
Overall, competition is harmful because it is not maximizing company results nor the performance by the largest number of people. Competition works for the competitive and not for everyone. Discussing these issues and opportunities in the context of collaboration and communications offers the chance that people may choose to behave differently, or at least be more aware of how they are influencing others in their workplace.
So, a key to organizational improvement comes directly out of debriefing on ideas and reflecting on choices so that different choices can be made in the future that would allow for a culture shift of some kind.
We support all kinds of innovation, motivation, engagement, team building and other aspects of people and performance through the sale of our simple tools for facilitating change and improvement. You can find out more about these by clicking on the link below:
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.