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Is your organization focused on collaboration at the expense of competition?   A healthy competitive environment for your employees can be an invaluable catalyst for innovation and improvement.  

Progress occurs when there is a struggle. This is why a competitive environment can be an invaluable catalyst for innovation and improvement within any organization. It is essential to help to bring out the best in your employees while also teaching them humility, mastery, and perseverance. The trick, though, is to find the balance between competition and collaboration. 

Motivation with Competition

Most organizations understand the importance of collaboration amongst employees, but the concept of understanding the type of motivation competition elicits is a lot less common. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, they took a look at the importance of how employees interpret the stress competition places on them. They asked 204 employees from a variety of industries how different employment policies at their company (such as bonuses, performance management, and promotions) made them feel. We also asked them to think about the behaviors they use to distinguish themselves from other employees. The results showed that when the employment policies elicited excitement, employees were significantly more likely to use creativity. When workers felt anxious about employment policies, they were significantly more likely to cut corners or sabotage colleagues.

A competitive workplace helps employees grow, accept defeat, and learn humility together. It also promotes creativity and leads to innovation. With the right type of competitive environment, organizations can motivate employees intrinsically, drive them to put in more effort, and overall achieve greater innovation and efficiency. These types of teams are the kind that will breed innovation and generate transformative ideas. 

Achieving the right type of competition within your organization can be difficult, though. The best place to start is to consider how you would like your employees to be motivated. Do you want them to be motivated by rewards, recognition, and ego? Or by an intrinsic sense of purpose and mastery?

Value Driven Collaboration

The type of environment we are aiming for is one that encourages a value-driven collaborative mindset between employees that encourages individuals to be their best selves. A team of selfless, motivated individuals will always be more productive than a group of individuals motivated by fear and upward mobility. 

To start, let’s take a look at a couple of considerations for creating a healthy competitive atmosphere:

1.  Teach Healthy Conflict 

Competition can create friction between employees if it is not guided by the proper mindset. Vying for limited resources and personal gain can be negative motivators that create tension and selfish attitudes. This makes it crucial to promote healthy debates and constructive competition. Employees should hold each other accountable for progress and feel motivated by the contributions of their peers. Having employees that understand how to facilitate healthy conflict is the first step to creating a more engaged and spirited environment.

2.  Encourage Teamwork

While this may seem self-explanatory when trying to engage employees, the idea here is to understand where great ideas come from. In most cases, winning ideas are produced by teams, not individuals. Teamwork and competition are a slippery slope, and the last thing you want is to create a selfish atmosphere. 

Great ideas require multiple viewpoints - they need to go through the gauntlet in order to be refined and distilled to the best version of themselves. A great way to do this is to encourage the ambassadors of ideas to recruit others that they think can add value to the idea and help to truly validate it. Fostering a competitive environment that is composed of properly motivated individuals will help you create the right type of teamwork within your organization. 

Now that we have an idea of the type of mindset we want to present within our teams, let’s dive into a few ideas that can help you to motivate employees to embrace competition and bring their best selves to the table.

3.  Shark Tanks

As it turns out, Shark Tank-type competitions make for more than just good TV. Creating a formal process within your organization that enables employees and leaders to present their ideas to the entire company can dramatically shift the mindset of your teams. They can help create an open channel of communication that gives employees a real voice and fosters a healthy competitive mindset. Not only that, but these types of competitions can help to educate your employees on how to add value to an idea and how to deeply validate them. These competitions require employees to identify real problems, develop a viable solution alongside colleagues, and create a focused pitch. Over time, this will create a very focused and professional atmosphere as employees continually improve this process over time. 

An example of this is the Impact Competition  that Output has been helping Entuitive conduct over the past couple years.   

Their team was looking for a way to get better outcomes from all the firm’s great ideas and take a more agile approach to their decision-making processes. One of the key requirements of this study was a buy-in from leadership at the company into this competition. The finalists of the competition pitched their ideas to the Board of Directors, which helped create a more interconnected chain of ideas. They then decided to utilize software to better track ideas and engagement metrics related to each channel of communication. This digitization led the company to embrace crowdsourced ideas and improve its ability to engage large groups of people, move quickly, and innovate.

This customer story demonstrates the power of access to competitive digital arenas and open channels of communication. The award of time and money to pursue their idea is empowering to employees and promotes transparency.  Furthermore, as these competitions are conducted each year, the quality of the competition itself and the ideas therein drastically improve. 

Why is this the case?  There are several reasons.  First, the buy in and participation from the Board of Directors is a strong signal of trust and confidence to the employees.  Second, transparency of the process, pitch training and other resources provided to the finalists each year helps educate everyone and increase the quality of participation.  Lastly, while rules are required in order to maintain alignment with business goals, the flexibility of this type of competition enables employee autonomy and mastery where employees can let their creativity shine. 

4.  Interest-Based Channels

In order to focus on developing certain aspects of the business, it is important to have open channels of debate and communication surrounding certain topics. Try to create digital channels that are dedicated to certain topics surrounding the business. Encourage employees to start (or request) new channels based on common interests or collective goals of improvement. This ability to have dedicated channels for certain hot-button issues can lead to organized debates and a culture of open communication and productive debates. 

Additionally, these channels will also make it easier for employees who have an idea up for validation to more easily recruit a team of individuals to help them refine it. These interest-based channels will make it easy for employees to reach out to certain channels that they know have specific expertise and will facilitate healthy interdisciplinary debate.

5.  "Enabling" Competition

One last method to consider is that of how your organization can enable individual competition and improvement. Your employees should have the tools they need to participate in competitions and network with one another. They should also feel like their leadership is facilitating this process and that the goal is their full, undivided dedication to innovation. 

Try to ensure that there are channels available for employees to be able to interact with each other and participate in think tanks and other competitive tasks. This will continuously challenge employees to figure out where they are succeeding, where they need to improve, and also will help make it easy for them to do a better job within this process. Providing access to helpful tools and training programs will only further the competitive mindset and creative output that you are aiming for. 

The main concept we are aiming for here is empowering employees to be competitive and driven. Investing in this infrastructure will give employees a signal that the organization is dedicated to helping their mastery of personal goals and skills. 

6.  Getting Started

As these initiatives evolve and employees begin to participate and challenge each other’s ideas, you will begin to learn from the process. You will discover aspects of the process that work great for employees and also which parts of it may not be cutting it. Armed with this knowledge, you should make calculated changes to the process in order to improve the competition in whatever way you feel is best for your employees.

One of the main points to keep in mind early on is the concept of continual improvement. Maintaining communication channels that allow employees to submit ideas and engage in think tanks with one another will only improve over time. These processes will gain momentum as you tailor them to your team’s unique characteristics and will lead to an invaluable feedback loop. 

Continuous Improvement Breeds Innovation

No matter what happens in the end, it’s important to focus on the value that came from the competition itself – teaching new skills, connecting people across multiple departments, creating positive results for the organization, and creating powerful individual motivation. With access to the right tools and support from leadership, organizations can use competition to help intrinsically motivate employees to pursue mastery and focus on the work itself, rather than worrying about the consequences of stepping out of line. 

Speak with an Output professional about your competition landscape and other strategies to help your employees add value to your organization.

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