Are you able to discern who is competing against you in the workplace? A recent study from Washington University in St. Louis found that co-workers had no clue who was competing against them and trying to edge them out of the job. Some competitive cohorts readily show their aggressive nature while others act like they’re your close friend. The researchers concluded that people tend to mask outward feelings of competitiveness in an effort to be polite and that they expect reciprocity. The ideal scenario would be to promote a climate where there is friendly competition, but also boundaries that can’t be crossed. To create a strong and cohesive team the researchers suggest transparency and uncrossable lines in an effort to maintain a healthy balance. Be aware of what people do rather than what they say since this will probably be a better indicator of their competitiveness.
The workplace can foster healthy or unhealthy competition depending upon the way the organization’s reward system is structured. An important factor to consider is the relationships among the staff and their level of trust with each other. Sometimes businesses promote more individual competition rather than rewarding work as a team. Work relationships can determine productivity, performance, morale, and ultimately cost. If a co-worker worries about being stabbed in the back or thrown under the bus by a colleague then their level of fear and anxiety can impact their focus and effectiveness. Sometimes workers compare themselves with their colleagues and harbor anger and resentment when they feel they’re not receiving comparable perks and recognition from their supervisors. Ideally a system that rewards both individual and team performance can produce the greatest benefit.
All relationships, even those in the workplace, require direct communication, realistic expectations, the ability to resolve conflict and to build trust. Work cohesion comes from creating a mission statement, incorporating team building exercises, and accepting diversity. One suggestion for team building is to volunteer together as a group. Volunteering promotes connection. Make your interactions with staff and colleagues, at times, non-work related and ask about their personal lives. This shows you understand that your team members have lives beyond the workplace. Also be sure to celebrate the firm’s successes with the entire team. Give your team feedback and let them know what they’re doing right, not just focusing on the negative. People will work harder and longer for a person they respect and like. In closing I’m reminded of a quote from John C. Maxwell, “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.”