July 2012

July 4th, 2012 by Angela McHale

Competitiveness – is it getting stronger?

I recently delivered some team building training in Prague for a client. I was working in conjunction with a wonderful trainer who knew the group very well. The team were a great bunch of individuals and were all very dedicated. Our brief was broad – they wanted to have fun but they also wanted to be more effective as a team. Many of them shared very similar energies and communication styles and on top of that they didn’t see each other often. In addition, English was a second language for all but one of them. Like many global teams, they are under pressure to deliver against difficult deadlines in very competitive industry.

What I observed over the course of the day interested me and got me thinking about our innate sense of competition. Many of the exercises were intended to explore team dynamics. They all agreed up front that they would like to work on collaboration and active listening but as they went through the exercises – most of which were designed to be fun and light-hearted - it became clear that they couldn’t help themselves but get competitive with each other.

They created competition where there wasn’t any, which got in the way of them listening and collaborating. It was also clear that even when they weren’t doing an exercise that was time bound, they appeared to rush through it – as if the most important thing was getting it done as quickly as possible which, seems to me, to be the enemy of collaboration.

When we debriefed the exercises we touched on this and I took away some learning about myself and my tendency to rush towards solutions when I perceive I’m under pressure. I also wondered if I’m not alone.

Are we, as a workforce, getting so used to deadlines and the demands of our emails that we see deadlines and sense urgency when they aren’t always there and likewise find ourselves competing with colleagues when it’s not usually in our nature? I wondered what challenges this represents for effective team working if this is more prevalent in our working practice. There’s also the issue of inclusion – do we share and hear valuable ideas when a sense of competition exists within our workforce?

More than ever before we are working in environments where time to plan and reflect feels scarce. Our access to information is immediate and far-reaching and our expectations of ourselves, our colleagues, our working partners and our clients are high. HR initiatives such as agile working and advances in technology may assist in addressing some of these challenges – but equally without good relationships with colleagues and managers it may exacerbate the problem. The way we work and the way we interact with each other is still pivotal to managing this innate sense of pressure over performance and speed over efficiency.

When I returned to the office I was keen to ensure that I took just a little more time to appreciate my colleagues and enjoy the collaborative nature of what we do. It’s something that makes Steps such a lovely place to work.

As we approach the Olympics it’s even more on my mind that we are going to have a summer of feeling very competitive. Let’s hope we also see the London Olympics and Paralympics as a celebration of what can be possible if we collaborate.

Now let’s all have a group hug – but first just answer that email – it might be really urgent... ……


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