As someone who has always played team sports, the idea of competition is exciting and a powerful motivating force in my life. Being able to compete alongside others to achieve brings me great satisfaction, particularly when my own contribution has meant something significant to the result. This got me thinking, how does this directly translate into the workplace and what is the common thread that I share with almost 75% of the population to whom competition is an important driver?

There is a distinction between healthy completion and cut-throat competition that is worth discussing before we go any further.

What is Healthy Competition?

Healthy competition is experiences when the drive to win motivates, enticing higher levels of productivity and collaboration across a team. Where competition can go wrong is when the scale is tipped and ruthless behaviour to win at all costs, is rewarded, even at the detriment to those around. This is particularly true when competition is framed as being primarily between individuals and competing egos. The scales tip back in the favour of healthy competition when ‘team’ is at the heart. Healthy competition is proven to also be effective when the challenge is against ‘self’, rather than others.

Competition can drive innovation

When we consider healthy competition in the workplace it is widely acknowledged that there are real benefits to be had in increasing creativity, productivity, challenging the perceived limits of what is possible and increasing connection between colleagues.

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

Ashley Merryman co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

Sounds pretty intuitive right?

Team building Maximised!

Using competition as a key ingredient within our simulations is not an accident. In fact, using this powerful approach within the right frame (team) and in the right context can be a formidable driver for change, even when we are not directly aware of it.

Creating a psychological connection between certain behaviours, such as collaborative and creative problem solving in a competitive environment can have a lasting effect within the workplace. These new experiences can create genuine culture change by showcasing what is possible in a creative and healthy competitive environment.

It’s hard to argue with science;

working together and helping each other releases brain chemicals that enhance motivation, pleasure, and bonding. The brain strongly desires these feel-good chemicals, and so the team is intrinsically motivated

Marilee B. Sprenger author of The Leadership Brain for Dummies

How to make healthy competition an ongoing part of the workplace

  1. Make it fun
  2. Ensure competition is team-based
  3. Set realistic goals and keep the focus on the end goal; rather than the steps in between
  4. Encourage competition with self; how can you reach your personal best
  5. Reward achievement

While doing this, ensure that the effects are desirable and adjust the nature of the competition if the scales are tipping to reflect unhealthy competition.

In the spirit of healthy competition – go forth and conquer!

Giovanna Shakhovskoy

Author Giovanna Shakhovskoy

The ‘all-rounder’, Giovanna has fingers in many pies, but thrives in managing people, working in experience design and supporting production. Giovanna is the person to talk to about partnerships and big ideas!

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