Leading a business is a lot like conducting a choir. Imagine an ensemble that is competing against itself, each individual trying to outdo the others and make their voices heard over the rest. It would not be singing -- it would be a yelling match.
And yet, this is how many businesses are run. Employees climb to the top by stepping on others; they withhold help and information from co-workers; they undermine the efforts of those they see as their competitors.
Competition and cooperation are two very different business models, which lead to different strategies and different outcomes.
When we focus on competition, there is usually a winner and some losers. On the other hand, when we focus on cooperation, it is usually a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the business.
There have been hundreds of studies since the late 1800s that have shown that, in a sense, competition brings out the "beast" in us, and that cooperation brings out the "best" in us. This has been found in virtually every occupation, skill or behavior tested.
If you analyze a successful business or businessperson, you will see clearly that they spend more time cooperating than competing. Those who cooperate end up winning in the long run against those who just compete.
Perhaps it's time to join our voices with our co-workers and employees and work together in the spirit of cooperation.
Following are benefits that your organization can reap from promoting cooperation:
* Reducing unproductive competition. Competing can be a waste of mental energy. A cooperative work environment reduces the chances of people becoming overly competitive, resulting in a shutdown of communication between employees and reducing organizational effectiveness.
* Sharing knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you are "in the know," you have a clear advantage over someone who has been left in the dark. In a cooperative work environment, everyone works together and shares their areas of knowledge and expertise. Everyone is enlightened.
* Fostering communication.Utilizing the mindset of cooperation helps break down the walls between an organization's departments, divisions, and other formal structures to foster communication between all the units.
* Achieving common goals. The development of teams with members from various departments encourages workers from all levels and all parts of a company to work together to achieve common goals. Not only that, but they give you someone to hang out with on breaks.
* Increasing innovation. People achieve more by working together than through individual efforts. Also, as employees work together through various problems and approaches, they learn how to help one another and how to utilize one another's skills and experience.
Consider the following questions to determine the extent to which your organization represents a cooperative environment:
- Do people act as if they care about one another's success?
- Do we share information with one another and other departments openly?
- Do we keep our commitments to one another?
- Do we solve problems together?
- Do people enjoy working together?
- Is the work environment inclusive of everyone?
- Do we value all of our differences?
- Do we surface conflict and productively resolve it?
There will always be competition to some degree. Competition is helpful to a certain point.
However, cooperation begins where competition leaves off. If you want to be better: Be competitive. But if you want to become the best: Be cooperative. Success in business today is, more than ever, a question of cooperation.
Brad Larsen is a life coach and corporate consultant from Northern Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.