In any party or social gathering among management professionals one often comes across stories about how employees instead of spurring each other to achieve, end up sabotaging the work of one another. Stories such as how a colleague “accidentally” forwarded another colleague’s mail containing critical comments on the boss to the boss himself, or how an assistant deliberately introduced some well chosen typos into a crucial presentation or report to cause not only a great deal of embarrassment to the presenter but even led to the client taking his business away to another competitor are sure indications of an unhealthy office environment where the level of competition among colleagues has become too intense for the good of the business. This article tries to suggest a few steps on how to foster competition among colleagues that boosts rather than damage team productivity and morale.
As most managers know some degree of competition among colleagues is a good thing. To take a specific example related to the advertising and marketing industry, according to a survey by the “Creative Group,”:http://www.creativegroup.com/ 72% of advertising and marketing executives said their staff members are competitive with each other. And 88% of those with competitive environments said the atmosphere enhances employee output.
Managers must, however, remember that there is a fine line between creating a competitive culture that increases performance and one that breeds bitter workplace rivalries.
Keeping that in mind here are a few suggestions as to how you can have competition that enhances rather than reduces team productivity and morale:
*Diffuse turf battles*
Many professionals are too attached to their work. While having passion for the job and the desire to take ownership of projects are appreciable qualities in professionals, too much of this can be counterproductive. If, for example, a sales manager becomes overly possessive of a client and isn’t open to others’ ideas or assistance, it could affect your business. In such situations it’s prudent to remind the employee that the client belongs to the company as a whole – not just him or her. If territorial problems persist, it may be time to reshuffle assignments.
*Don’t play favorites*
In most companies there are a few star performers. While you should try and do whatever it takes to retain and encourage these superstars, don’t make the mistake of making special rules that apply only to them. For instance, if you reprimand staff for not maintaining records properly, don’t turn a blind eye when a star performer does so. Playing favorites not only encourages office politics but also generates widespread resentment as well. Make sure that you earn a reputation for being fair — and keep bloated egos in check — by enforcing company policies evenly.
*Create a level playing field*
The best work, ideas or solutions don’t always come from either star performers or senior professionals. Juniors too should be given opportunities to work on high-profile assignments. Sometimes a junior may fail to close a deal despite doing a very good job, just as it may happen to seniors. Recognize and reward such performance to keep morale high. You never know when one failure will provide so much learning experience that it will lead to a string of successes. By spreading out opportunities evenly despite an occasional failure here or there keeps the competition among the staff healthy and reduces the scope for internal bickerings.
*Reward the team, not just individuals*
When a team of workers bring home the bacon, go out of your way to publicly recognize the contributions of the entire team rather than lavishing praise on any one individual. By heralding group accomplishments rather than employees who seek the spotlight at all costs, you’ll send a strong message that a team-oriented attitude is a key job requirement.
As a manager, one of your key goals should be to create an office environment such that employees can focus their time and energy on business or customer related issues rather than on playing office politics. Keep the internal competition friendly and fair, and you’ll keep your employees — and keep them happy.
Some of the indications that can tell you that your staff is too competitive are the following:
# Employees are shying away from collaborating and working as team.
# Few people speaking up at meetings indicating that some are trying to keep their ideas to themselves to be expressed in private to the boss in the hope of leveraging those ideas for personal benefit.
# People not going on leave despite having accumulated a lot of it or despite there being a perceived need for it indicating that people are shy of taking time off in the fear that others who will temporarily assume their responsibilities will either outshine them or somehow undermine their efforts.
# Everyone clamoring for credit with everybody trying to take the lion’s share of responsibility for the success of an initiative.
# Too much backbiting. It may be necessary for employees to approach you about a problem colleague, but an endless parade of finger-pointing and malicious gossip indicates that your workers view each other as the opposition instead of allies.
Keep a sharp eye out for these indications. If you see some or all of them, you can be sure that there’s something very wrong. Take corrective action before you suffer too much damage!