Competing vs. Collaborating

There’s lots of talk about collaborative technologies in the news. Products like Google Wave, Skype, Cisco’s teleconferencing, and GoToMeeting all highlight the zeitgeist of businesses today: collaboration. Everyone believes that the success of their company can be improved if just more people in their organization collaborated. However, there’s a lot more to this than just providing an avenue for collaboration.

A recent piece in The New York Times shows how Microsoft has failed to innovate, mainly due to a competitive culture that has been fostered there. Innovation happens within, but it gets quashed by internal competition. While it’s easy to look at the dysfunction at Microsoft, it’s much more difficult to confront the issues within your own organization.

This story reminds me of anecdote from Franklin Covey, where he discusses a company that’s charging its employees to cooperate, but offering individual incentives to the highest performer. You’ve got to first organize the company to collaborate before the services really matter.

Collaborators have a strong interest in their personal beliefs and in the personal beliefs of others, whereas competitors only focus on their own benefits. We all dealt with kids like that on a sports team at some point, and it turns out they grow up. Being able to align the interest of competitors with the goals of the group or company becomes essential to get them on board.

There’s certainly a place for competition between organizations, but within organizations, it’s trickier. Do you really want your gaming and television departments competing against each other instead of working together (Sony)? Do you want different car lines working against each other instead of collaborating (any car manufacturer)? Before getting people to compete, think about what you’re trying to achieve. If there’s any benefits from them working together, it’s essential that any rewards are designed that way.

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