Wilson2009blog Competition is a hallmark of our free market system.  Competitors drive us to improve, grow and change.  In many respects, competition helps our companies to be vibrant and healthy.

But in my travels this year, I have visited many organizations where members of the leadership team are no longer focused on their formidable external competitors.  Instead, these bright and capable professionals have lost sight of their firm’s mission and have begun to compete internally.  And, while some believe that a race to be the biggest biller, business developer or most influential with the staff is driving their team’s overall performance higher, I have been struck by how the one-upmanship has eroded trust among partners, respect from the staff and sapped precious inspiration, motivation and collaboration from the team.

So, why do we compete internally?  As I wrote in my blog on selfishness, we all want more (and certainly not less) of four things in our work together:

  • More money
  • More time and more control over our time
  • To look better or be held in high esteem
  • To feel good, with less stress, strife, upset and commotion

For many, we compete internally because we want to look better and make more money We like the power that being a “Big Dog” at work brings.  We enjoy being able to throw our weight around to get the best people on our jobs, call the shots on our engagements and heavily influence internal decisions.

But internal competition between two or more leaders usually causes people who work with the competitors to feel that they have to take sides, or carefully ride the middle, to remain “safe” in their jobs.  It causes people who are trying hard not to upset the delicate balance between the competitors to do things that aren’t necessarily right for the clients, staff or firm just to maintain the peace.  This balancing act drains our people, reducing creativity and drive and replacing it with resignation.

Internal competition also wastes time and energy I have facilitated numerous leadership retreats this year where internal competition threatens to waste the time of an entire team while two or more Big Dogs attempt to assert their positions or protect their self interests.  Instead of embracing change, supporting up-and-comers, acknowledging (and truly appreciating) the contributions of others, or willingly subordinating their interest for the sake of the greater good, these internal competitors do the opposite – to the detriment of their team.

I have begun to call it when I see it and point out the destructive nature of some of these internal rivalries.  My counsel to those engaged in them is simple – stop measuring yourself against your team mates and begin to measure yourself against your external peers.  If you must compete, compete to be the biggest giver in your firm.  Give away some credit, responsibility, authority, and even some ground every day.

Do you have internal competition in your firm?  Is it healthy or unhealthy?  What do you think should be done about it?  Please share your thoughts.  This is an issue we’re thinking about a lot lately and we could really use your input!