I’m continually amazed when I hear about the importance of building cooperative culture and what I can mostly see is still reinforcement of a competitive one.
New trends across all industries are putting more stress on promoting employees’ team-player characteristics and glueing the teams for better outcomes. There are many talks inside and outside companies about building such an attitude. The shift in mindset is mainly required on the leadership level where change can be driven and cascade to the rest parts of the organization.
Why leaders should care more about cooperative culture?
The aggressive competitive culture for many years was recognized for delivering overperformance results, but the question is it in fact true? Why promoting individuals over entire teams is the better strategy for the company? Most companies have common goals and vision, and they strive to make any single employee shares those principles. Does it not sound like one huge team of people who must collaborate to achieve one goal? So why do managers on lower levels often act differently and throw people into competitive situations?
Once, one of the managers told me that employees like to compete and this is how they are driven to be better at work, but I remember that team mostly as frustrated and surly people. Of course, we hold the competitiveness in our nature. We compete with our peers for better jobs or with co-workers for a rise or promotion. But looking from a helicopter view, I am questioning its positive impact from the company’s growth perspective. To illustrate this, imagine a soccer team. You can have one or two spectacular stars, but you need eleven players to win a game. Even those two superstars will not win a game for you. You need the effort from the rest of the group. What is more, your team is just as strong as the weakest player. And here we are touching on the pros of a cooperative attitude.
What makes cooperation better than the competition?
I worked in many industries and companies with different cultures, and I can honestly admit that the more stress was put on collaboration, the better memories I have about the atmosphere and delivered results. Of course, some people may raise their voices that if you did not track individuals’ progress, people would be tempted to cheat and not put in as much effort as they could. But my point is not against tracking individuals’ progress for people management purposes, just not presenting those statistics to the team.
Learning from others
The undoubted advantage of a strong collaboration approach is the overall greater capability of the whole team as a group due to sharing between them best practices. To translate for the business purpose an old proverb that says you need an entire village to raise a child, people can learn from other experiences and discuss with colleagues how to approach problematic clients. They can even participate together in meetings with clients just to observe the behaviours and responses of more experienced colleagues. Learning on the job has been proven to be the fastest way for people to acquire new skills or master existing ones. Sharing knowledge would be beneficial for all, younger and more senior members, while younger can exchange their energy and fresh look on things with balanced manners of seniors.
Many times, private life interrupts professional. You can be accidentally sick just before closing a deal with your key client, or you immediately must be on the second end of the country to help your parents with their health problems. As we are all humans and most of our business partners will understand the situation, in consequence, the business processes will be on hold. Would not you feel much calmer knowing that in your absence your cases are moved forward, and customers are still pleased? And what about solving problems? How to leverage brainstorming sessions if people have in the back of their heads that they should not reveal their best ideas? To maximize outcomes you need to build trust. Trust will not grow in a competitive environment.
Both above-mentioned potential advantages are crucial to ensure business continuity. Just think how the image of your company would suffer in the eyes of your customer if you can not replace smoothly the employee who suddenly got sick for a longer time. As a manager, one of your goals is to mitigate risks and make sure that all your processes are covered and fully operated. Having a group of people with similar skills and knowledge is a guarantee of stability from the company’s point of view.
What role does the reporting play here?
The reporting reflects vision, strategy, expectations, and corporate aspiration or at least should. If your reports do not provide supportive information to drive a business, it literally sucks, and you should do homework on how to force your data to work for you. However, before you leverage data, you must think about what message you would like to convey.
I’m always emphasising that by having the same data set you can tell several different stories and draw other conclusions. The factor here is a perspective and an end goal. The management must ask themselves if they would like to support a culture that creates stars that can shine very brightly but for a relatively short period or prefer to invest in a team which takes part in relay-race and win together.
To depict how we can promote cooperative or competitive culture by reporting tool let us compare the two below sketches (BTW, sketching is a great tool when you are working with clients, but it is a good topic for the next post).
More competitive dashboard
- Design the dashboard for a sake of the possibility to compare team members’ performance.
- Create an overall ranking where you can present the undisputed leader of the race.
- Colour laggards in red or orange to emphasize them even more.
- Keep records daily to present the progress and gaps of each team member to the leader. You can even present the historical dynamics of the race.
- Display dashboard on a wall screen.
- Keep a record of the best performers from previous months on the Wall of Glory.
More cooperative dashboard
- Forget about individual performance. Focus on the Team performance.
- You can use natural competition drivers toward other groups like teams from the same department but serving other markets, teams from different departments or if you have an opportunity towards your market competitors. Show them a common “enemy” to reinforce them as a group.
- Show the team’s current progress in comparison to goals or targets.
- Highlight “good news” like positive growth of KPIs or faster pace of attaining the target.
- Display the daily progress to emphasise and award daily work.
- If your company culture is promoting giving KUDOS present them on the dashboard. That great recognition from peers for someone’s hard work shouldn’t be unnoticed.
I have only scratched a surface of the topic, but whatever approach is closer to your HR strategy remember that how you use, and display data will amplify some underlying behaviours and attitudes. For organizations that aspirate to be data-driven, there is no escape from thinking about data at a strategic level and using them to serve specific purposes.