How Competition Hurts Your Company

May 26, 2015

competition can hurt your company

The Crimes We Commit in the Name of Team Building… How Competition Hurts Your Company

Competition is the way to keep your edge and maintain your position in your industry. It’s the lifeblood of business, right?

Not so much!  Certainly not when you direct your competition internally—between departments and teams. Unfortunately, the idea of internal competition has become rampant in many industries. It so often comes disguised under the idea of “team-building.” However, the idea that “nice, friendly competition” in team-building exercises will enhance your employees’ relationships is just not true; in fact, it may actually be a major detriment to your entire corporate culture.

A University of Minnesota study recognized this way back in the 1990s. David Johnson and Roger Johnson found a significant achievement difference between cooperative and competitive environments. In a study involving 245 classrooms, 87 percent of the time the advantage went to the cooperative approach. They concluded that people learn better and perform better when they perceive that their environment is cooperative, rather than competitive.

There are a couple of reasons why internal competition hurts your company.

First, a lot of competitive exercises disguised as team building create meaningless competitions that pit departments and individuals against each other. The goal is never cooperation or collaboration but driving your “opponent” into the ground. When your opponent is the person in the next office, such a strategy is bound to create long-terms feelings of animosity and antagonism—the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.

Second, having different parts of your company compete with one another is a bit like having your hands try to compete with your feet. They aren’t designed to do the same job, so having them “compete” is useless. The same is true of, say, your sales and your marketing departments. They should be cooperating to give your customers the best products and service, not putting their emphasis on competition with each other.

If you want to achieve greatness in your company, then develop healthy bonds between your internal teams, the employees, and the boss—and even with the top leaders and the organization itself.

The way to do this is by creating a common purpose. The fact is, common purpose creates bonds, and bonds create the kind of fierce loyalty that makes a company great. Think for a moment about the Secret Service agents who defend the president. They aren’t in it for the money. In 2010, the starting salary range for a Secret Service agent was $43,964 – $74,891. You’ve got to ask yourself—would you be willing to literally “take a bullet”  for someone for that kind of money? I really doubt it.

So why do men and women sign up for the job?

Purpose. The men and women who defend the President do so because they believe that what they are doing is for the greater good of the country. They share a common purpose—to protect the leader of the free world—and that common purpose means that the bonds they develop with the President and with each other transcend everything else—even the instinct for self-preservation.

Now, I’m not suggesting that your employees need to lay down their lives for you or each other, but I am saying that you have to “have each other’s back.” And the only way to do that is by creating the kinds of bonds that are developed through cooperation and collaboration—not competition.

Competition may have its place in business, but internal competition is never a right place for it. In fact, competition that pits members of your organization against each other is a sure recipe for losing the very people you want most to keep in your organization.

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Learning to cooperate with others instead of competing is essential to maintaining a positive work environment. Learn more communication skills through these AMA tools and resources.

About The Author

Dõv Baron was named by Inc. magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. He is the leading authority on Authentic Leadership, or as he calls it, "Full Monty Leadership" and is the world’s only Corporate Cultural Momentum Strategist. He works with leaders and executive teams in creating a corporate culture that becomes fiercely loyal. Dõv is a bestselling author of several books, including his latest title, Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent. Between 2010-2013, he was the host and executive producer of the popular radio program, The Full Monty Leadership Show. His radio show and podcasts have had over one million downloads, and his current podcast, Leadership & Loyalty Tips for Executives, is the #1 podcast for Fortune 500 Executives. For more information, visit and and connect with Dõv on his blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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