Healthy Competition Among Teams

The topic of competition among teams was discussed in class last week. I consider myself a competitive person and enjoy games, sports, and activities where I’m part of a team competing against other teams. I spoke last night about how competition can serve as a motivating factor for me within the group, especially if we all have the same performance objective. Competition and cooperation can lead to stronger group cohesion if goals stay task-focused and members are open/respectful to new ideas and ways of doing things. Levi argues “Cooperation, trust, and safety are preconditions for allowing constructive controversy to occur” (pg. 90). Once an individuals brings in personality conflicts to the mix (or hidden agendas), group cohesion is disrupted and issues of mistrust, commitment, and confusion become destructive. In other words, healthy competition needs to stay performance/task based (Levi, 2014, pgs. 96-97).

In our last staff meeting, my supervisor announced that there will be three senior advisor positions opening up in the next few weeks. If a current advisor has had at least three performance evaluations (aka been here 3 years or more), he or she is eligible to apply for the senior advising position. Our staff is made up of about 20+ advisors. The positions are also going to be open to other departmental advisors across the university. Therefore, I imagine there will be a lot of internal competition occurring for three coveted positions even within my own business advising unit. My business advising team consists of 3 people. However, only 2 of us are eligible to apply for the senior advisor position. I’m reminded of Levi’s argument that “Internal competition among teams within an organization can lead to sabotaged work, unjustified criticism, and withholding of information and resources” (pg. 88). Of course, my colleague and I are totally supportive and encouraging to one another and I can’t imagine any of the negative side effects happening that Levi discusses in his chapter. We both get along great, but I wonder what kind of conflicts these career ladder opportunities may have within my department and possibly the university.

I see this type of example being an individual motivating factor that can help the organization overall; however, individual/internal competition can hinder successful teamwork if there are breakdowns in communication and trust within the team.  Levi’s chapters on cooperation and competition provided clarity about healthy vs. unhealthy competition and helped me explore ways of dealing with the negative effects of competition within my own work environment.

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2 thoughts on “Healthy Competition Among Teams

  1. That is an interesting observation on a very common dilemma: how to foster the healthy competition upon which so many of us thrive while trying to avoid the destructive elements of individual competition within a supposedly mutually-dependent team.

    I think taking advice from the skilled facilitator and approaching a conversation with your colleague, naming the “elephant in the room” (another post of yours!), expressing any concerns you may have, and explaining your reasoning behind those concerns, is the “recommended” way to go, but obviously this qualifies as a “risky conversation” and would need to be analyzed beforehand in terms of your thoughts, feelings, and motives before doing anything. Good luck- I think you would make a great senior advisor!!!

  2. I can’t imagine having to work in situation where people sabotage each others’ work! From what you describe of your workplace it seems unlikely that you will have to worry about that, but I can understand your concern for how this will affect the dynamic within the department as whole.

    There have been occasional times in my current work situation where I have felt as though information that should be shared was withheld (our center moved from being overseen by an academic unit to being overseen by the provost’s office). This caused a fair bit of dismay when the information came out, and a lack of trust in our supervisor who had withheld the information. While he had good intentions – the decision wasn’t final, and he didn’t want us to worry about the changes – word came down through the grapevine. Other people were asking us about a move that we had no idea about. On top of being out of the loop, we had to find out from others. We discussed the issues with our supervisor, and thus far he has been much better about keeping us informed.

    A little bit of a bunny trail, but I thought it was somewhat relevant. Even though the withholding of information wasn’t competition based, it led to a productive risky conversation.

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