Collaboration vs. Competition

I recently attended a leadership retreat. As I reflect on the many topics we covered that weekend, one simple exercise stands out in my mind. We split up into pairs and were essentially tethered to each other with “handcuffs” made from thin ropes. We were then told that the entire group had 10 minutes to untangle ourselves. While most of the room struggled, one pair figured out the trick to getting untangled in about 30 seconds. After a few more minutes of struggling, another pair got untangled. The first pair began helping the rest of the group get untangled, while others just watched silently, satisfied that their task had been accomplished.

After everyone was untangled, the moderator noted his observations and explained that the goal wasn’t to see which pair could get untangled the fastest, but to see how quickly the group could get untangled. We repeated the exercise a couple more times with more complicated knots, and, as expected, the group reached its goal much quicker than in the first round.

The exercise was an example of the effect that a company’s culture has on its collective productivity. Companies that emphasize collaboration and encourage teamwork get more done than those in which employees are “competing” against each other for commissions, promotions, or any other incentive. If our focus is solely on individual achievements, collaboration isn’t likely to happen. Indirectly, it might even be discouraged. So how do we nurture an environment of collaboration? Maybe certain employee incentives can be based on reaching company goals rather than individual goals.

We’ve all experienced what it’s like to be on a team that doesn’t collaborate well, whether it’s at work, in a service group, or on a sports team. Take a moment to think about your company’s work environment. Do colleagues compete or collaborate with each other? What could you do to inspire more collaboration?


About the Author 
Tim Peters is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Business & Accounting Advisory practice. To get in touch with Tim, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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