What Good VS. Bad Team Competition Looks Like Blog Feature
Jennifer Clark

By: Jennifer Clark on January 11th, 2018

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What Good VS. Bad Team Competition Looks Like

Sales Training

Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

If you’re not first, you’re last. 

In about 0.48 seconds Google found me “about” 86,800,000 results for “quotes about winning”. Odds are most of you didn’t need the help of Google to recall these familiar quotes, most of them are deeply ingrained in our ambitious psyches. The concept of winning is so heavily discussed because we compete for nearly everything in our lives; whether it be against our competitors, co-workers, or even ourselves.

However, where there is competition there are winners and losers, gains and deficits, champions and underdogs...or at least this is how it appears at a distance. Is competition in the workplace as black and white as this? Should we allow this binary thinking to turn office-place competition into a zero sum game?

I propose that there are key differences between good and bad competition in the working place. Healthy competition has the potential to increase workplace productivity, elevate our performance, and inspire creativity. On the contrary, toxic competition can foster a negative workplace environment, or even turn teammates against one another. The fundamental discrepancies between healthy and unhealthy competition lies in the approach, what we view as “winning”, and whether competition fosters collaboration. In this article I have broken down two instances of competition, highlighting signals of whether your team is practicing positive or negative competition.

Negative Competition

Hypothetical Company A decides to incite a little workplace competition within its sales team in the hopes of boosting performance, make the quarter more interesting, and suss out its best employees. Company A’s sales team is told that the number of deals each salesperson closes throughout the quarter will be carefully recorded and archived. At the end of the quarter their performance ranking will be revealed and the top seller will be rewarded with a bonus in their next paycheck. The rankings will be displayed for all to see, in the hopes of holding everyone accountable for their efforts and work.

The announcement of this competition immediately lights a fire under the sales team's butts. Salespeople are prone to competitive attitudes as it is, and everyone is ready to step their game up to the next level. Everyone wants to place at the top of the rankings, and surely nobody wants to be caught lagging at the bottom.

Salespeople immediately run off to their desks and begin chipping away at long lists of contacts, prospects, and current clients. Mental math is being done at a rapid pace throughout the office as individuals attempt to calculate which deals would put them at the top of the performance list.

All quarter Company A’s sales team works at breakneck pace, maybe even harder and faster than they have ever worked in the past. Sales People shield their contact lists from one another like test-taking students trying to avoid someone cheating off of their test.

The end of the quarter finally comes and the rankings are unveiled. The individual in the prized top position is unsurprisingly elated. Those just beneath him or her pat themselves on the back for a good showing, and overall those of the upper crust of deal-closing rankings value the efficiency competition ignited within them.

Those who find themselves at the bottom leave the office that day dejected, discouraged, and reserved. Is their low ranking a fault of their own? Or is it the result of the competition’s inherently flawed structure?

If we look back through the brief summary of Company A’s sales competition we find harmful trends common among negative workplace competition and rivalries.

  • Competition that sets employees against one another
  • Competition encouraged teammates to act individually and separately
  • Competition fostered rivalry
  • The “prize” was both individualistic and did not help to further the company’s mission
  • The public ranking system left those at the bottom discouraged and unmotivated (as has been proven by multiple studies)
  • Competition encouraged only efficiency rather than innovation and teamwork
  • Faster work does not necessarily yield better work

 Positive Competition

Hypothetical Company B has a similar idea to Company A’s. They too wished to increase productivity and identify its top employees. However, Company B also wanted to foster an environment of creative problem solving, mentorship, and positivity.

Company B decided to implement a reward system in which a significant portion of the sales team’s annual bonus will be based on the extent to which they help newcomers within the company develop their skills and career.

This may seem like a difficult metric to measure; however, after a year of onboarding and teamwork, it is apparent who has been willing to grow together, and who has only been concentrating on themselves. This in and of itself creates an honors system that encourages cooperation and collaboration.

The sales team of Company B continues to work routinely, keeping in mind that it would be in their best interest to help other employees whenever possible. In the process of showing new salespeople the ropes, they find their own work improving. This is because while teaching someone else how to properly carry out a project or deal, one must hold oneself to the same (or even a notch above) the standard one preaches to others. They know that newbies are learning by watching and listening; therefore, they must be demonstrating excellent work. Even better? The onboarding and training process for Company B’s sales team is operating far more efficient than in the past because it has become a priority to all on the team.

In addition to better work and faster onboarding, Company B’s sales team becomes more closely bonded due to the encouragement of mentorship and collaboration. What are the key differences between this method of competition versus Company A’s?

  • Competition furthers the goals of the individual AND the mission of the company
  • Competition fosters bonding among teammates
  • Competition enhances the self-esteem of all
  • Competition does not lead salespeople to compare themselves to their co-workers
  • The betterment of others is framed as bettering both individuals and the company

Positive competition such as Company B’s sounds nice on paper. But can it work in the real world?

It can, and it does.

Grote Consulting, a firm that has worked with PepsiCo, claims that 40% of annual bonuses there are based on this exact process. It is a theory of competition that welcomes newcomers, forces employees to embrace new perspectives, and facilitates creative collaboration. Truly healthy competition at work does not pit individual against individual, it unites teammates in the journey to achieve the company’s goal as a whole. Good competition should frame the company’s goal as the best interest of the individual.

There are many examples of positive competition that can be implemented at scales varying from small to large. We encourage you to try one out!

 If you're looking for more ways to take your sales team's performance up a notch or two, check out our free marketing and sales playbook


About Jennifer Clark

Jennifer Clark is a senior International Studies student at Fordham University and a Content Marketing & Social Media Intern with DMTraining. Prior to joining the DMTraining team, Jennifer helped various start-ups market themselves on and off campus. This summer, she hopes to add value to DMTraining by assisting clients with digital media education, using her status as an industry newcomer to her advantage. Outside of work, Jennifer enjoys creative writing, making art, and petting every dog she comes across.