Competition vs Collaboration for Better Team Performance

competition vs collaboration teamworkThere is a very simple but effective activity that I occasionally incorporate into my team building presentations to illustrate the impact of competition vs. collaboration and which one inspires better team performance. 

The activity may sound familiar – it is called “arm wrestling.”

I choose a fun way to get participants into pairs and have them lock hands with their elbows resting on the table.  Then, I share the following instruction without any further details:

Your objective is to score as many points as you can… and you will score one point each time you can get your partner’s wrist to touch the table in the next thirty seconds.”

As you might imagine, there is never a shortage of grunting and groaning – especially amongst the more competitive members of the group.  

And, as you might also imagine, they are NEVER the ones who get the highest score in the activity. 


The pairs with better team performance are the ones that work together.

Our instinct is often to compete with or fight against or compare ourselves to someone else – but truly effective teammates and leaders recognize that the only competition is with our previous selves.  Our interactions with other people should allow for win-win outcomes.

Do you normally find yourself working to “beat” the other people on your team, or do you seek to work together for the benefit of both?

Competition leads to teammates thinking (or saying) things like “that’s not my job.”

One example of this is when a co-worker sees something that could be picked up, cleaned up, or straightened up around the office…

It is not a question of whose job it is – it is a question of having team cultural standards and showing that you care about people and group success more than individual job descriptions and completing your own personal to-do list.  Competition turns the focus away from helping maintain a high performance organization and focuses individuals on themselves and their activity only.

The caring co-worker, who sees the big-picture impact of client perceptions and cultural standards, will do what needs to be done even if it isn’t their “assigned” duty. 

Similarly, a quality teammate on an athletic team will pick up trash off the floor of their locker room instead of thinking it is a custodian’s responsibility… 


In a high-performance teamwork environment, success and standards are everyone’s responsibility.

Great teams consist of great teammates who are not just willing to do these things when asked… great teammates TAKE THE INITIATIVE to do it without asking because it needs to be done to ensure that clients and fans have extraordinary experiences and continue to view the organization as elite.

But competition can lead to issues that are much more serious than just not lending a helping hand to others.  In extreme cases, a culture that stresses competition amongst staff members can eventually create situations where people are actively seeking to sabotage other’s efforts – or at the very least can produce behaviors that lead to hurt feelings and a lack of cohesiveness..

This is not to say that all competition is bad.  

In fact, it can often inspire great improvements and accomplishments… but the most important competition to encourage is against yourself.

An old Hindu proverb states that “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”   

Instead of competing with and driving wedges between teammates, leaders should seek to build a culture of collaboration and sharing successful ideas. 


Collaboration is often the simple result of engagement and connection. 

Just recognizing that others have valuable talents, backgrounds, and perspectives will lead to greater respect and group interactions.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a “collaboration ladder” that illustrates the progression of and evolution of positive teamwork behaviors.

Rather than creating more obstacles to teamwork, collaboration creates connections and a network of support for your people to lean on.  Collaboration can be as simple and informal as asking a coworker, “what do you think?” – and this simple request for advice can lay the foundation for stronger relationships, interdepartmental trust, and organizational camaraderie.

The sharing of knowledge that a collaboration team enjoys will always produce a more cohesive and productive culture that an environment that encourages team members to horde or keep information and useful ideas to themself.  

Finding opportunities to celebrate the success of others and the shared efforts of those on your team contribute to building a more positive environment. 

Some team building companies actually promote divisive competitions and create envy or wariness among coworkers in the activities they provide – but that will never have the positive impact of an event that encourages collaboration and building team trust cohesiveness.

Put down the boxing gloves and extend a hand to assist rather than attack your teammates…

Collaboration leads to far better team performance!

If your team needs a jolt of motivation to work better together, and you would like to discuss how a business team building event can inspire your group to start sharing more ideas (and laughter), visit the contact me page and share a short summary of your situation.


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One thought on “Competition vs Collaboration for Better Team Performance

  1. Tina Parisi says:

    Wow! I found your article with a Google search and I would love to leave a copy of this on my co-worker’s desk. Not that she’d see herself in it… We are a very small 3-person “team” and she’s been trying to one-up me since the day she started. I no longer speak to her because of it, and I have never done that with a co-worker in the over 40 years I have been working. My goal when she was hired was to build a team. I trained her – hell, I brought in her resume! – and she’s been nothing but disrespectful to me from the beginning. At this point, I’m really not interested in having her as a teammate because I don’t trust her. It’s just good to know that there are published articles on collaboration v. competition that are in line with my own thinking. Thank you!

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