Byron's Babbles

Great Collaboration or Great Competition

I am reading the great book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis right now and he spoke of the “odd couple” of the revolution being Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Both were very different in their tactics and personalities, and were unlikely friends. Before Washington’s presidency, they collaborated to solve multiple political issues. Then, as Ellis put it, the “great collaboration” turned into the “great competition” because the two intimate friends soon found themselves running for the presidency against each other. Probably no relationship in this country’s history carries as much baggage as that of John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

This got me to thinking about the age old topic of how much competition is healthy. Pursuing individual goals alongside others can, at times, lead to counterproductive behaviors that can be harmful to both sides. This sense of competition can shift teammates (let’s consider Jefferson and Adams teammates of our democracy) focus from improving themselves or the vision of the organization to defeating a pseudo-opponent, which can lead to sabotaging behaviors. We saw these sabotaging behaviors in the case of Adams an Jefferson and I’ll bet you have seen this happen to others or yourself.

In a work setting, having read extensively about this topic, I believe in providing individualized performance statistics can help reduce competitiveness as well as its negative consequences. Competition at its best helps us to be better. At its worst, it can create unhealthy self-comparison or judgment. I am not advocating for doing away with competition. I am, however, advocating for us to not let collaborators becoming competitors stifle progress, both for the individual and the organization. Competition can actually change our world view. Never forget, everybody in an organization has something to say and undoubtedly has some value to contribute. Do we see the world as a place to grow and collaborate with others?