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'Healthy' Competition & Star Performers

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This is a concept that is often misunderstood - that ‘healthy’ competition can mean a toning down of aggression or diluting the ‘killer instinct’. Not at all.

In “CorporateTheatre” workshops, there are some exercises where the group is divided into teams and compete with each other. These are theatre-based contests and involve scores and ratings. One team comes first and one team inevitably ends up last. There are no ‘material’ rewards. Yet the contests are extremely intense, with teams fighting for points, questioning the scores, and even, as has happened on a few occasions, surrounding the facilitator threateningly, insisting on getting a higher score for their own team’s performance, or lowering the score for a competing team. The competition is intense. There is unbridled celebration when a team scores or wins, and genuine and painful disappointment when a team loses.

At the same time, we see something strange happening during the course of the contest. This is not a rare occurrence, but happens in almost every single workshop. Even when competing intensely, when any one team delivers an extraordinary performance, everyone, including the competition bursts out in applause. There have even been occasions where a competing team insists on a higher score for another team that has delivered an outstandingly brilliant performance. When this behaviour is processed, 3 significant learnings come through regarding a ‘natural’ team’s approach to competition (for the definition of ‘natural’ teams, please refer to my article):

1. At the level of excellence, there is no competition. Excellence demands that the team is putting in all their energy, commitment, competence, resourcefulness, and passion into the task at hand with complete availability and alignment. (Creating an environment where this seemingly ideal behaviour becomes instinctively possible is the entire thrust of the “CorporateTheatre” methodology.) Here the benchmark is excellence and not someone else’s performance. It is like a master singer who is so completely involved in the song that there is no time or need to benchmark against another singer. It is understood here, that this ability to completely flow with the process becomes available only when the technique has been mastered. Like a driver, who can enjoy the drive totally only when he/she no longer has to focus on the technique of driving. Once you have the expertise, you are enjoying the movement of the car, the hum of the engine, the constantly changing traffic flow and pattern, the scenery flowing past, and the music playing on your system.

2. A good team’s success does not depend on another team’s failure. If your team’s success depends on another team’s failure, your success is not within your control. You have to make the other team fail first and you have no control over that. Instead, when you can applaud the excellence of your competition while focusing on delivering excellence and being the best, then your success is more in your control. What is more, you are now open to learning from the excellence of your competition, and those tools, techniques, and attitudes become available to you and gets incorporated into your own process.

Star Performers: Another interesting aspect of these contests is that the level of difficulty keeps increasing. Starting with a ‘trial’ round, they move up to Level 1, which is fairly easy/difficult. They then proceed to Level 2 rounds which are still more difficult. And finally to Level 3 rounds which are extremely difficult, in terms of the acting skills required, the creativity of communication, and the alignment to each other’s roles. At each level of difficulty, the team has to decide who will lead them and the leader cannot be repeated. In the process of selecting the leaders for higher levels of difficulty, the team instinctively decides who their star performers are, reinforcing the point made in my earlier article – that while competition is instinctive between teams, within the team there can be only collaboration. Competition within a team irredeemably destroys the environment for excellence that is characteristic of a natural team. This behaviour also reinforces the learning described in detail in my article on “Leadership & Hierarchy - the Journey and the Destination". When the team has a major say in deciding who the star performers are, the star performers as well as the team get equally motivated. Else, the stars may get motivated, but the rest of the team, very often, gets de-motivated.

Having done hundreds of workshops, and actually experienced the instinctive behaviour of thousands of participants, it never ceases to amaze me, how every behavioural trait that we so desperately seek to materialize in the workplace, through costly and laborious interventions, is so instantly, consistently, and universally available, at the level of our primary instinct. All that we need to do, as stakeholders of organizational objectives and culture is to create the 3 pillars of a natural team as defined in an earlier article in this blog. While I may have stated it rather simplistically here, it is possible to create these 3 pillars if we are willing to critically evaluate our existing situation, (primarily our team definitions, goal setting, and appraisal and reward policies) and look at creative solutions calling for, if required, a redifinition of our paradigms.

There is no individual or team or organization that does not want to succeed or deliver excellence. There is no one who does not enjoy the pressure of challenge or the excitement of change. These are natural to us. We recruit people who are competent, qualified, and eager to be champions. The only thing we need to do to ensure that we help to remove the hurdles and obstacles that block this inherent urge to excel.

“CorporateTheatre” is a simple, direct, totally experiential, and very enjoyable way of understanding this urge, of practically seeing the blocks created mostly by obsolete concepts of professionalism, and of exploring ways of removing those blocks.

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