Competition VS Interdependence
"May you live in interesting times." When I first heard this saying, it was difficult for me to understand why it was referred to as a curse.
Yet as the United States juggles the shift from Industrial to Information Age processes, talent management and succession dilemmas due to baby boomers retiring, and regular business issues such as foreign trade balances, mergers, acquisitions, balanced budgets, government stewardship, and systems-wide ecological imbalances, all we are left with is interesting times --and in my view extraordinary opportunities.
Born and raised in the United States, I have learned that competitive practices have made our country strong. Competition has given us a creative edge to invent new and better devices to feed, cloth, shelter and entertain our citizens.
As a culture we have embraced the idea, "if we want something, we can have it," resulting in the possibility of unlimited innovation. The downside, however, lies in self-interest that has long ago replaced the need for self-preservation. When this is encouraged and promoted within an organization, self-interest drives wedges in group synergy and effects collaborative values like trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.
Competition is rooted in survival. It fosters polarization based on win - lose, right - wrong, us - them, predator - victim, and powerful - powerless concepts. From an organizational standpoint, competition might be most keenly felt within the team as struggles for power, or within an organization as struggles for information, supplies and resources. These struggles waste time, creativity, productivity, and profits. They also deepen competitive rifts and diminish overall group morale.
The truth is that the ultimate competitor will eventually stand alone, isolated by fear that something might be lost or taken away. This can be an expensive position because loyalty must be purchased with favors or money. Independent and lacking a foundation in community, the battle to the top may reap hollow reward. Is there a better way?
In 1987, I asked a question that ultimately produced an innovative way of looking at how people collectively achieve high levels of personal and group success. The question I asked was, "What is necessary to create an ethical, quality focused, successful, caring, and productive group of people?" The answer to that question emerged from an extensive study of group dynamics housed within three disciplines - education, psychology and business. The answer also produced a deeper understanding of successful collective endeavors based on a collaborative value structure. The collaborative values (trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy,
risk and success -- TIGERS) resulted in shared power and shared resources contributing to highly effective collaborative ventures such as work teams, strategic alliances and companies like Federal Express and Yoshida Foods.
Both life and work experience had taught me that putting technically skilled people together on a task force didn't always result in a positive experience for all the parties involved. Depending on the level of competition and conflict the group either handled or avoided, work quality was ultimately affected. Team problems emerged from deep rooted group process problems and disappointed human interactions. The end result was that internally competitive cultures tended to avoid the expansive development of supervisors or managers equipped with the skills to motivate, inspire and lead workers.
Rewarded for directive leadership practices and getting the job done, many managers could not demonstrate communication and social skills that motivate workers to higher levels of performance without power plays or threats of loss. For example, many did not know how to be performance coaches. They lacked feedback skills that inspire work quality and personal pride. Synergy and group interdependence were foreign concepts. In fact, internal competition tended to discourage collaboration and encouraged aggressive and passive-aggressive power struggles from the boardroom to the break room.
Discoveries from the education, psychology and business group dynamic research also pointed out that people are rarely fired for not knowing how to perform work - given that they were hired based on skill competency or could be trained on the job. People were most often fired because of behaviors that violate a group's implied values, norms or standards. This pointed to an unspoken profit principle that a group's convictions on how business is conducted and how people are treated translates directly to work quality and service.
Examples of disruptive competitive practices are:
Cutting remarks intended to make a person look foolish or inadequate among co-workers and peers. This form of verbal competition splits people into two divisions - winners and losers. The intended message is, "See how powerful I am, so back off." - and people do back off. They hold this person at a distance giving credence to the saying, "It's lonely at the top".
Collaborative leaders, however, do not find leadership to be a lonely place. They build success for themselves and for others. As a result, they are supported by their colleagues and stories of their achievements are told years after they are gone.
Failing to reward or recognize a talented person for fear he or she is smarter, more talented or more valuable than the competitive leader. In internally competitive organizations where people claw their way up the corporate ladder, talented people are often held back by politically savvy yet less skilled leaders. Unfortunately, the organization is also held back for organizations learn through people who learn and organizations grow through people who grow.
Watching a co-worker fail and holding a smug satisfaction that the competitor could have done a better job. Organizations that reward "we win" efforts foster the notion that serving one another is serving the company. It is through coaching, interdependence, and collaborative efforts that more work and higher productivity is achieved. A person who balks at helping others in order to fulfill his or her own agenda retards organizational success. This person lowers the bar and harms a company's ability to be competitive among similar companies - the place where competition matters.
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