A Coaching Power Tool Created by Lori Peterson
(Business Coach, UNITED STATES)
This power tool will explore the dynamic of Competition vs. Collaboration. Coaches can use the ideas and language within this power tool to serve their clients as they discover the role of competition and collaboration in their clients’ personal and professional lives. Competition acts as the driver in pushing individuals or groups to perform.
Competition motivates people and teams to be better, stronger, smarter, and faster. Collaboration is the action to work with another to produce or create something. Like the competition, it also helps the individual or team to be better, stronger, smarter and faster. There are a unique tension and relationship between these two forces, and coaches will serve clients profoundly when they use this power tool to explore both.
Winning isn’t everything. But the will to win is everything.-Vince Lombardi
Competition is wired into us as we’ve evolved as humans. Throughout human history, humans have competed to survive. We’ve needed to compete in order to find food sources to nourish our bodies. We’ve evolved in competition in order to procreate with finite prospects for mates. Competition has fueled our evolution and has kept us safe in dangerous situations as we’ve been able to be faster and outsmart our predators.
Many would argue that at the root of Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution is competition. It states that
all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. (Adrian Desmond 2004)
Competition is a crucial factor in driving economic growth. For those willing to learn the big lessons, competition places pressure on firms to improve efficiencies in order to deliver products and increase market share. Additionally, competition fosters innovation and creativity, while positioning the market as an attractive arena for foreign investment, which is a precursor to growth. (LSE Office of Fair Trade 2018) Additionally, competition in the industry helps companies refrain from being complacent. And, friendly competition often creates the arena and space for improvement and growth.
Let’s move into a discussion of the role of competition in athletics. Competition in sport creates a higher level of play. In order to win, a team or individual must perform at a higher level than the losing team. To reach first place, the individual or team is pressured to improve, practice, learn from mistakes and ultimately, become better and more skilled. The definition of competition is based on rivalry; to strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective. (Webster) One winner and one loser.
Competition in teams, athletic, or otherwise, can negatively affect the people involved when not kept in check. We’ll call this ‘extreme competition’. It can create a culture of backstabbing and infighting when winning at all costs is the main message. Trust is absent in highly competitive environments, and resource hoarding becomes and all too often by product. Teammates may refuse to share ideas or to innovate due to the fear of someone else getting all of the credit. Consequently, isolation and depression may ensue.
Competition at its best helps us to be better. At its worst, it can create unhealthy self-comparison or judgment. This then affects how we see the world. Do we see the world as a place to grow and collaborate with others? Or, do we see the world as a “dog eat dog” culture where every man or woman is for him/herself?
Comparing ourselves to someone else most often results in feelings of disappointment or lower self-respect. A win/lose scenario time and time again can leave devastating consequences on the psyche. Could we teach “losing gracefully” and re-directing the loser toward self-improvement, self-confidence, strengths and finding places for them to win? Or, is the ubiquitous “Participation Trophy” the answer to this issue? Where do we draw the line on extreme competition, and where can we start to apply more collaborative messaging, especially in working with our youth?
Competition left unchecked may cause a scarcity mindset and a limiting belief that “there is not enough” of something in our lives. It also can create some feelings of inadequacy, born from comparing ourselves to others. The competition that exacerbates comparison could be fueling the sky-rocketing rates of suicide and anxiety in our youth.
The Prince’s Trust has been gauging youth opinion for 10 years and found that just under half of young people who use social media now feel more anxious about their future when they compare themselves to others on sites and apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. A similar amount agree that social media makes them feel “inadequate”. More than half (57%) think social media creates “overwhelming pressure” to succeed. (The Guardian, 2019)
Here’s an interesting insight around the role of competition as it pertains to raising our individual levels of excellence. It’s a counter-intuitive idea. What if, when we compete with others, we are settling for less than our absolute best? What if, once we’ve passed up the other guy, we back off, even if we could’ve gone further or higher? This is a sober reality for many and can happen with individual performance and team performance. What would happen if we competed only with ourselves? As coaches, what would happen if we could help our clients to be their best, regardless of what the real or perceived competition was?
As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. –Amy Poehler
The definition of collaboration: “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” (Webster) Collaboration is the special sauce that helps individuals and teams create synergy. It’s the adage of 1+1=3. The sum of its parts is exponentially bigger than the individual parts. Here’s an example; If I have an idea, and you have an idea….we each have only 1 idea. However, if we share the idea with each other, we now both have 2 ideas. And, when we share these ideas, often times a third, and best idea surfaces.
Working together and striving for collaboration creates win/win scenarios. There are two winners, as opposed to a win/lose scenario in competition. Win/win scenarios are an integral part of collaborative workplace culture. This allows people in their team or workplace to be flexible, to think of others’ ideas in the best light before dismissing, and to empathize with the person as a real human. (Forbes 2019) Collaboration creates trust which creates safety. Safety then creates space for people to stretch for goals, and risk failure more often. Trust also decreases the fear of censure, and that perception shift then improves engagement.
Collaboration begets the question, “What can we do together that we could not do alone?” Working with others may be messy, but using this question at the outset can transform. Beginning with the spirit of collaboration causes many powerful teams and partnerships that would not be the same if they stayed only with their individual skills, resources, and beliefs.
When we examine collaboration in economies, today’s global market makes a strong case for collaboration over competition. Collaboration increases innovation due to the truth that people trust each other, they give freely of ideas instead of hoarding them. Collaboration and sharing lead to fresh ideas. Also, people feel safer in working with others, which causes a decrease in unnecessary risk. Collaboration flushes out pitfalls and inefficiencies that one person may not think of, or be aware of. Successes are shared, but so are failures and losses.
And, as we think of the world as a whole, collaboration plays a much bigger role now than the survivalist competition tension that got us to this point. Societies that share ideas and innovate for the future will become stronger and increasingly stable, while societies that shirk collaboration and strive to “be the best” may be at risk for economic downturns and political turmoil. As quoted in “Uplift”, biologist Elisabet Sahtouris says, “We are capable of regaining our reverence for life, of replacing the drive to conquer with the will to cooperate, of remaking our engineered institutions, including our corporations, into living systems.”
In an article written in June 2019 regarding collaborative healthcare verticals, Emma Williams writes about interviewing hundreds of medical professionals. Their primary concern is patient health and continuity of the best possible care. Many clinicians are opting for modern technology platforms that help to improve patient outcomes with collaboration. These are digital platforms that centralize and support chats, meetings, charts, tools all in one place for the clinician and patient. (Emma Williams, 2019) This is a great example of how teams are desiring more collaboration to drive the preferred outcome.
If you want to be incrementally better, be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better, be collaborative. –Unknown
What is your relationship with the competition?
What is your relationship with collaboration?
How can we be curious about the roles that competition and collaboration have played
in our clients’ view of current situations?
What role does competition or collaboration play in developing desired outcomes?
What role does competition play in overwhelming pressure?
What can we discover about ourselves (or our clients) when we consider if we are competing with someone instead of being our best?
What structures can we put in place to strengthen collaboration for our clients?
What would you do differently if you set aside competition?
How would you manage this situation differently if you knew there was enough for everyone? If you knew you had a 100% chance for success?
Before we are able to help our clients, we must first examine our own perspective on collaboration and competition. Where is it serving us? Where is it not serving us? When could we benefit from looking at something with a different or new perspective? Being aware of our own biases toward competition and collaboration is the first step in helping others.
When we find clients existing in extreme competitiveness, as coaches we can be curious about this with our client. Competitiveness can be the root cause of many obstacles when people are trying to move forward. Could competition at its extreme, or it’s little sister perfectionism, be playing a part for this client? We must be curious about the role competition or collaboration plays in a client’s thinking.
Our clients will have varying degrees of comfort and skill on the competitive or collaborative spectrum. Perhaps it’s not an EITHER/OR scenario. Perhaps we can help them live in the world of BOTH/AND. Some clients will use their competitive spirit productively; competing daily against themselves to be their best in a variety of scenarios. Other clients will be the most engaged in deploying more collaborative tendencies; gathering people around them and moving forward as a team toward the desired outcome.
It’s our role as coach to curiously explore our clients’ needs and aptitude in this arena and to help them consciously be aware of how they can best use competition AND/OR collaboration to move forward in life.
Desmond, Adrian (2004). Charles Robert Darwin. Britannica Encyclopedia
The Guardian, June 2015 “Cambridge’s Suicide Sunday Campaign & The Deeper Psychology of Suicide”. Extracted from the URL of Magazine’s website.
Kappel, Mike (October 19, 2016). How to Deal with Competition in Business. Forbes. Extracted from the URL of Magazine’s website.
Hayashi, Shawn Kent (September 2017) Competition Or Collaboration: Which Will Help Your Team Produces The Best Results? Forbes. Extracted from the URL of the magazine’s website.
Jackson, Rob (2019). Team Building Theories: Competition or Collaboration? Magnovo Training Group
London School of Economics (2018). Competition and Growth: The role of a competition agency. Office of Fair Trading.
Whal, Daniel (2017). Evolution shows Collaboration. Uplift.
Williams, Emma (October 2019) Healthcare Collaboration Microsoft 365. Extracted from URL.