David thinks a team can be extremely effective if there are competitive people in it, but it has to be the ‘right’ type of competitive.
People tell me that I am very competitive, and this drives my behaviour. I have always recognised this as a positive trait because, whilst I am massively competitive, I generally ‘square up’ against myself. At work, I always want to do better than I ever have before. When I play sport, I like to win but am more annoyed if I haven’t improved than I when I lose… which is a blessing as I lose a whole lot! If I ‘m the sports team captain or work team leader, I always want my team to do the very best it can. I am a ‘compete-junky’ but it’s never about beating other people or teams. I think this is OK (I would, wouldn’t I?) because it allows me to be highly competitive AND a team player.
However, I have worked in some teams where people are competing against each other; where the team boss pits members against each other and when league tables of people’s results are used to manage the group. For me, this is an entirely different type of competitiveness and very unhealthy for a team.There is always someone top of the table and always someone bottom. Both emotional places to be in a team for different reasons.Then there is everyone else languishing somewhere ‘safe’ in between… there is ’no drama’ if you are not top or bottom.This type of competitiveness can cause people not to share information that will help others improve. It can also cause unhealthy conflict (I agree with Patrick Lencioni that healthy conflict is a good thing… see his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). A really strong team succeeds together, fails together and learns together so, whilst it’s OK to have competitive people in a team, it’s not OK if they are competing with each other.
Of course, if you are in professional sports organisation, sometimes your first task is to beat other squad members to get a place in the match-day team. Again though, beating them by focusing on being the ‘very best you can be’ is much better for the team than directly competing with someone on the same side.
A good tip for all leaders and coaches is to constantly reaffirm to the team that they are in fact ‘all on the same side’. Simple but very, very effective!