Cooperation? Competition? What’s Best for Real Business Success?

How competitive is your workplace? Is it a good type of competition or one that breeds dissension, disharmony, and ultimately, disengagement?

A recent survey reported by NBC shows 96 percent of senior managers think employees are more competitive with one another than they were a decade ago. As the article points out, this isn’t all that surprising with recent history of massive layoffs and people grappling to hold onto their jobs.

And, really, isn’t a little healthy competition good for business? It can generate innovation and excitement, and I’ve yet to see a sales team that doesn’t compete to some extent with each other.

Competing as a team – and as individuals, too

But there is a line where the competitive spirit devolves into the destructive, which means:

People will try harder to stand out individually, in some cases even if it comes at the expense of succeeding as a group.”

The Olympics are arguably one of the most competitive endeavours out there. How can they not be? But let’s look at the sport of gymnastics for a moment.

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Each team competes as both a team and as individuals. Each individual’s performance contributes to the team’s ultimate success. So, while members of a team are ostensibly competing against each other in any given event, they are simultaneously cooperating with each other, encouraging and helping team members to achieve their very best individual performance to ensure ultimate team success as well.

With the Olympics beginning today, think about how this spirit of individual competitive success driving co-operative team success could play out in your team or organization as a whole. Are you creating a healthy culture of co-operative competition?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


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