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Competition in the Workplace: The Fuel that Stokes the Flame

Dale Newstead ·

Competition in the Workplace: The Fuel that Stokes the Flame
Photo by pixabay

Look. We're not saying competition should ever be volatile in a workplace environment.

But we implore you to equate workplace competition with an actual footrace. You're always inclined to push yourself harder when somebody is either nipping at your heels or just out in front of you.

Employees are the same.

It's not about talking trash and trying to outshine one another (although, some jovial banter is always fun). It's about team members striving to be the best versions of themselves.

With competition, benchmarks for excellence are set. Employees are presented with numbers and performance-standards that they'll want to exceed. Without a sense of competition, there isn't that defined standard to aim for.

Then, there are competitions that aren't necessarily consequence-based in regards to business operations — but instead, focus on team-building.

Below, we'll be looking further into why and how competition is the lifeblood of a successful work environment.

Conflict Breeds Innovation

The tension caused by competition doesn't need to lead to any workplace resentment or negativity. Instead, it should stem a robust back-and-forth filled with diverse opinions. Given that team members are experts in their given field, surely they'll possess plenty of insights when contributing to a healthy debate.

When contrasting and combining the different vantage points of multiple experts, the wealth of perspectives can generate big-scale ideas.

If your staff is too conflict-averse, they'll hold back as to not ruffle any feathers-keeping your company in a stale holding pattern.

Instilling Comradery

Team-building competitions, such as brain teaser games or Amazing Race-like events, foster collaborative skills and bonding.

There's a company, known as Acceleration Partners (AP), that runs team-style competitions. Throughout these endeavors, AP has noticed that although these activities have nothing directly to do with results, they indirectly increase productivity. Team members tend to push each other to be more creative, efficient, and motivated.

These initiatives must have paid off in some way, as Acceleration Partners was ranked no. 4 on Fortune's 2016 list of the top 10 places to work within their industry.

Whether a team wins or comes up short is irrelevant. If they work together towards a common goal, they build a bond with one another. They experience either a victory or a loss but have a story to tell, regardless.

This, of course, means you ought to pick teams and activities strategically. Stacking the deck against certain groups could tell you a lot about employees.

Acceleration Partners ran a "Great Race" in Boston. The team without knowledge of the city finished last but had the most beneficial experience, learning much about their own resilience and determination. They bonded together in the face of adversity, despite the end result.

Finding and Correcting Weaknesses

You can assess any missteps and mistakes during competitions in order to help employees improve their performance.

Does your team become negative during healthy/friendly competition? There's research suggesting that the fear of losing could lead to poor conduct such as badmouthing opponents, making excuses, and generally acting like sore losers.

If your company regularly pitches clients, this behavior is counterproductive and unacceptable. When things don't go right, professionals need to roll with the punches and keep things classy, cool, and collected while treating each setback as a learning experience.

One way to instill composure during a competition is by running a consistent stream of team-based competitions for short periods of time while regularly switching teams. This way, employees won't badmouth the other teams' members because they'll likely be working with them soon.

Rewarding Exceptional Performance

According to AttaCoin, 88% of employees think it's important that employers reward them for great work.

At the end of the day, workplace environments should be a meritocracy. And, if every single person is treated the same, regardless of performance, it's a great de-motivator for high-level employees.

From a pat on the back to special bonuses, there should always be perks for a consistently exceptional effort.

Lunch with the boss could be a nice touch. Or, a team shopping spree for reaching a milestone is another great idea. In fact, companies using similar incentive programs report a 79% success rate in achieving their established goals.

Lastly, when other employees see the incentives and adulation being doled out, they'll be motivated to up their game so they can reap the rewards. It's a motivational and aspirational tactic.

Playing with Gamification

We've talked a lot about the "why" when it comes to workplace competition but we haven't discussed too much about "how".

Consider utilizing gamification, the application of game mechanics in non-gaming environments.

You can implement challenges, points, badges, leaderboards, rewards, as a means to create competition without fear of real-life consequences.

What's more, is gamification promotes the learning of relevant information, and if executed effectively, will create stir up excitement and boosted productivity. The ideal gamification program focuses on success instead of failure.

Health and Wellness

A healthy team is good for business. Employees with good nutrition, restful sleeping habits, and an active lifestyle tend to be more vibrant, alert, and productive.

Wellness competitions cultivate a positive workplace culture. Gamifying the experience will get team members encouraging one another to make positive lifestyle decisions, further establishing bonds between coworkers.

It could be something as simple as encouraging employees to bring their own healthy lunches instead of buying their meal, with the winner receiving a gift card to an organic grocery store.

If you're looking to promote exercise, a competition centered around walking or cycling to work, or taking the stairs while at work, would make the parameters accessible to staff. A healthy, catered lunch would be a fitting reward for the winner.


Competition is great for any workplace. It just has to be healthy.

These competitions must be implemented strategically as a means to boost employee morale and productivity. Done right, such workplace initiatives have the potential to not only improve individual performance but also strengthen collaborative efforts.

Plus, competitive employees with conflicting viewpoints and opinions can generate innovation in the workplace.

So, if you haven't already, start stoking the flame of competition in your office.


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