In an article titled The Pros and Cons of Competition Among Employees, the authors share how some competition focuses on the negative aspects of losing, such as being laid off, or loss of income. These types of competition elicit negative feelings. Other types focus on the employees or teams winning recognition which elicits positive feelings.

The learning journey when you train to win.

Competition can be incredibly fun and engaging, or it can generate feelings of fear and anxiety.

In my experience, I have found competition can be good for performance. It can be leveraged to scale excellence through the organization.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. I commanded a U.S. Army tank company, Cobra Company, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment at Camp Casey, Korea. Our motto was “Strike Fast – Kick Ass” which spoke to the capabilities of the tank and its crew. Each tank had a 4-soldier crew that had to work as a closely-knit team to operate the tank and all its systems. We trained for potential combat on the Korean peninsula. In combat, winning is important for many obvious reasons.

As a Commander I trained my company to win, but the most important part of training was the learning journey for our tank crews. Twice a year our entire unit went to gunnery, a training exercise designed to assess combat readiness of the respective companies in the battalion. The tank crew that achieved the highest score won Top Gun and held the title until the next gunnery exercise. Top Gun was the prize and during gunnery training my leadership team, and I emphasized the positive nature of competition and how striving to win Top Gun was going to make each tank crew and platoon more cohesive, making our challenging mission more purposeful and creating stronger bonds within Cobra Company.

Team Cobra won Top Gun two times in a row with all tank crews scoring very high during their runs. I was incredibly proud of our soldiers. They came together as a team and achieved excellence together.

COBRA Commander Jonathan Silk

Cobra Company, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment at Camp Casey, Korea

The Learning Journey

One of my colleagues who is a leader in the education field talks and writes about the learning journey as being far more important than the test score or grade at the end. It is during the journey that learning and growth take place. The same can be said for competition.

The competitive journey, when framed positively, is where the bonding, learning, and growth happen for the individuals and teams within your organization.

3 ways your organization will benefit from leveraging competition.

1. More Cohesive Teams

Competition can be leveraged to form stronger emotional bonds during competition. Leaders can take immediate steps to create stronger emotional bonds on their teams through team emotional bonding rituals. An example is when a leader is inspiring by expressing emotion, connecting a team’s actions in competition to a department objective or organizational mission and vision. By igniting the team’s passion and connecting it to a shared purpose, he/she is leading the team through an emotional bonding ritual. When done right, it strengthens the team’s bonds.

2. Scale Excellence Across the Organization

During competition, your teams will be coming up with innovative ways to win. Take note of these practices. These techniques and procedures can be shared with other teams and departments in the workplace, enabling learning and improved performance across the organization.

3. Competitive Journey

Competition can be a great way to tap into the creativity that resides in your organization. When an organizations leadership designs the competitive journey to make work life more purposeful, more fun, they can empower employees to use their strengths to come up with new ideas, experiments, and prototypes that can lead to innovative solutions to an organization’s most challenging problems. As teams and departments compete, they will bond as they learn and grow together. When there is a focus on the benefits of the journey, competition is good for performance as the members of your organizations strive to meet and exceed the high standards the leadership team has set.

Organizations compete to win and get good results. Winning and getting results is a standard of performance. But the development of humans, the people within an organization is what leads to winning.

When leaders use creativity, imagination and courage in the design of competitions which develop and grow the human talent within an organization, then winning will be a by-product.

Toujours Prêt. Always Ready!