My senior year our high school football team went undefeated. It was the first of three consecutive undefeated years. It wasn’t until our coach faced the illness of his son, which meant traveling the country to find the experts who could help, that the team suffered a loss. His son was, and is, more important than football. How did this team, from a comparatively small school, in a day before class divisions (we played and beat Ben Davis all three years…a school more than double our size) go 27-0? Part of the answer was competition. Every week, in practice, everyone competed for starting positions and playing time.

What’s this have to do with Work?

Last week while conducting employee improvement surveys a production employee suggested we promote competition between two-person production teams. Her idea was to track the amount of work for the day and allow the winning team to choose their partner for the next day.  She knew her teammates, and felt that many of them would respond to this challenge, increase production, and have fun doing it. We’re going to try it.

The Advantages of Competition

  • Production – By promoting teams and teammates to outperform each other, Intra-team competition, properly directed and incentivized can increase production.
  • Improvement – Teams will seek advantages by looking for areas of improvement and taking action to better their performance.
  • Teamwork – As teams strive to win, an environment of teamwork develops. With team competition, the importance of communication, cooperation, and positive thinking are realized.
  • Fun – Competition can help even the most mundane and repetitive tasks be fun.

Where do you Start?

An easy place to start is asking your team. Pick a department or a group of employees and ask them what fun competition ideas they have. If they don’t share workable ideas look for the following:

  • An outcome that can be tracked.
  • A simple uncomplicated competition.
  • An area where improvement would have an impact.
  • A team that would appreciate the attention.

It doesn’t have to complicated, monitored hourly, or over-mandated.  A simple plan may, in fact, be the best plan. Harvard Business review shares this story. “Charles M. Schwab. One evening, to incentivize the workers in a mill, Schwab wrote on the floor the amount of steel the day shift had produced. Seeing the number, the night shift worked hard to top it, marking its own figure down. Soon the two shifts were vying for bragging rights, and production soared. “The way to get things done,” Schwab said, “is to stimulate competition.”

Promoting intra-team and departmental competition paves the way to improved performance, enhanced teamwork, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun. Do you use competition in the workplace? Tell us about it.