Your boss has called a meeting to share some visionary ideas to kick the next project off.
“It’s our Olympics, we’re going for gold – so who here is going to be the best of the best?” Perhaps someone will see this as a healthy competition, others might feel it is just another cheap trick. But when leaders’ set goals for others, do they ever consider the response? Can it genuinely lift people’s spirit or does it crush people into apathy? Is internal rivalry a positive force for good when people compete against each other at work?
In an age of Fitbits, Garmins and Strava there is a noticeable shift towards people wanting to physically stretch themselves - comparing and sharing their daily or weekly achievements on social media. Running, cycling and walking are just a few activities that can be enjoyed through setting goals. A smart phone captures your data and converts it into beautiful graphics detailing where you have been, how fast you’ve travelled and your PBs along the way so you can show your fit-friends. I’m the first to admit that I do this. It really works for me and I’m one of millions actively monitoring, measuring and bragging about it. It not only feels good but the next time it makes me exercise even harder.
Chris Froome, winner of the Tour de France 2015 states in his book ‘The Climb’ how the internal rivalry was a positive force and a healthy element to the gruelling training regimes, chasing each other up and down mountains. Indeed, when Riche Porte, A Team Sky teammate, beat Froome’s personal record for the fastest time up the Col de Madone near Monaco by 30 seconds, Froome acknowledged this begrudgingly via twitter. Yet these forms of challenge have, and always will, be a positive force driving individuals and teams to be even greater.
But in the interests of fairness - can too much internal competition be bad? Social style ‘Drivers’ like Sir Bradley Wiggins (another Team Sky rider) often get a bad rap for being so goal orientated - sacrificing relationships for results. Cautious leaders may sense check for this before it turns sour - but ‘Drivers’ bring a lot to the party. They nurture an aggressive spirit that can push others to dig deep and deliver more and pace set others hoping to see an uplift in effort. Teams who consistently out perform themselves through internal rivalry will master this heady mix of competitors and competition assisted by informed leadership.
Internal rivalry can also provide a strong sense of unity and identity. High performing teams have often been the stuff of legends. Discovering how it’s done and then applying it has been a common pursuit of many leaders. Those who can create a climate where individuals have permission to compete with colleagues may find themselves unleashing untold amounts of motivation. Coupled with the fact that these individuals, who chose to measure their own progress, require little, if any, management. Teams that are led to believe that their collective success is the direct product of each individual pushing themselves to even greater heights, become a force to be reckoned with. There is no stronger team than one that shares a common purpose to be great. A little competition can go a long way.