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7 Ways to Foster Healthy Competition in the Workplace

Competition in the workplace is imperative for growth and success. That competition must remain healthy, however, in order to foster growth and creativity. When too much competition sparks a dip in morale, increased stress, and backstabbing amongst employees, it becomes a detriment to the company.

“Whether professional musicians or school children, studies have shown competition fuels creativity and even improves the quality of the work produced. More than that, the skills that make you a great competitor–such as a willingness to push boundaries, trust one’s instincts, problem-solve–those are the same skills needed for innovation,” according to Ashley Merryman, author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

Goals

Aligning the mission and vision of the company and creating strategic goals helps to kick off projects and gets the team synchronized. Think about what you would like to accomplish overall, document your goals, and share them with the team. Creating “Win-Win” goals and developing a clear path to get there works well.

Keeping track of your progress with measurable results through KPI’s or another method of goal tracking will help keep team members on-task. For added assurance, keep your team knowledgeable and aware of goals. You may consider having members sign-off on goals and the actionable steps to attain them. This will prevent people from using scapegoats or the excuse that they didn’t understand the task, or a good one, “I wasn’t invited to the meeting,” when they were physically there the whole time. Ha!

Healthy competition keeps the organization on-point, but it can quickly become counterproductive if not managed well. Hidden agendas create havoc within an organization. Keeping good relations within your team and having alignment on goals will be important to address. Having the right personalities on a team is imperative. One way to get insight into your team members’ personalities is to take a personality and skills assessment. Keeping an eye on destructive behaviors and nipping them in the bud will help keep teams aligned on goals. 

Collaboration

The foundation of a good team is collaboration and communication. One-on-one competition can inflate egos and cause normally healthy competitions to go off the rails. Competing within a team is a healthier option, as collaboration is encouraged within the framework of the team. This can only serve to benefit your company structure moving forward. When relying on other teams be sure there is clear communication. Check your ego. If there are destructive or hidden agendas that could impact the path to success, make them known to the leadership team. When choosing teams, be sure that neither team is stacked too heavily against the other. Balance them out, and try to make the teams even. 

Make It Fun

Accomplishing big goals can be overwhelming and can create too much pressure if they aren’t balanced with some form of fun or other stress relieving practices. The foundational reason for playing any competitive sport is fun, right? That same outlook should be applied to competition within your workplace. When it stops being fun, employees can lose motivation, morale, and their love for coming to work. Don’t be too serious with your workplace competitions, try to incorporate humor whenever possible and always keep it lighthearted. This isn’t life or death in the Colosseum, after all. Keep things in perspective.

How do you keep it fun and encourage healthy competition?

  • Charts – Keeping a large, visual chart on the wall can help to track progress at a glance and keep progress top of mind
  • Adding gamification to make it fun will unify the team and keep a healthy charge on the competition
  • Create rewarding incentives; 
  • Ring the bell – think of something creative. Remember the carnival game, High Striker?
  • Chant – remember Matthew McConaughey in the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, humming a tune and thumping his chest? It was a little priming to get the team aligned and revved up to be highly productive – and it worked!
  • Points – many people have a natural urge to compete and like to keep track of points. Create a reward associated with points to encourage and reward the team or individual members for outstanding work.

Listening

People generally want to be validated. They want to be listened to, heard, and understood. Having a seat at the table and a voice that is heard helps them feel like a valuable part of the team. Encourage your team to talk and actively listen to their responses. If not given the opportunity to express their thoughts, team members may turn to counterproductive ways to get attention. This may be through gossip, backstabbing, setting someone up for failure, or other various ways to get what they want with slighted agendas.

“One of the best books I read in college was, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen…And Listen So Kids Will Talk.’  by Adele Faber. These lessons are often easy to apply in the workplace.”

– By Amber Pember, Founder of OUTRIGGER ADVISORY GROUP

Individual competitions require a team to support them as well.

Encourage Competitions

Competition with oneself can increase effort, promote creativity, and, in the end, be the most rewarding aspect of a job for an employee. Encourage an employee to achieve a personal best, exceed the results of past projects, orbeat a fastest time to completion, etc. If they are motivated to be better, you can really light a fire under them through self-improvement. Just like athletes compete against themselves to improve their segment times on Strava, this extra motivation can lead to really positive results.

Encourage confidence to help your team members feel valued. Ask for their suggestions and listen to the responses. Giving them the space to add input may open up ideas, and it will incentivize others to speak up rather than sit back and ‘keep the peace.” 

The famous book, Lean In, by Sherl Sandberg emphasizes the importance of communication and invites everyone to the table and voice their opinions.

“Like many sports and business teams, sailboat racing requires every individual to ‘give it their all’ in order for the team to function at a high level. We can’t win as a team if each role isn’t optimized for performance. That’s why we created OUTRIGGER – a marketing and operations systems management company designed to get optimal performance out of your team.”

– By Amber Pember, Founder of OUTRIGGER ADVISORY GROUP

Give Honest Feedback

Following a project or internal competition, be transparent with your employees. It pays to give constructive criticism and feedback. Encourage your team to make improvements and be positive. Provide them with the tools and resources to help them achieve their goals. If you don’t share the details of poor performance with your employees, the situation won’t improve, and in the end, won’t be salvaged. Keeping it upbeat and constructive will give your team members a little zest to perform better. Most people want to do well and if you hired the right team members to work in their strength zones, personality profile, and skills match, you should see a positive response. There still needs to be consequences to poor performance, and the result of that honest feedback generally results in a greater effort and better results next time. 

Reward Your Employees

Having a reward or prize in place for the winner of an internal competition can be a great motivator in addition to personal recognition. In some cases, a funny bowling trophy or similar comedic prize can suffice. If the project your teams are working on is more important, provide a more tangible reward like a bonus, vacation package, or gift. Some people need very little to drive them to success, but others require more substantial prizes to really motivate them. Sometimes, it’s imperative to provide a reward to all parties at the end of healthy competition. Simply taking the team out to lunch is a great way to support your employees.

How do you promote healthy competition within your workplace? Share your tactics for motivation in the comments section below.

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