Collaboration and Competition (Group Badges)

Todd suggested group badges in a client meeting.

As the group achieves more success, it gets more badges. This is an impressive way to promote collaboration, allow everyone to specialize, and build a stronger group identity.

But collaboration has a downside too. People want to get along. This well-intentioned goal can lead to people withholding ideas that might be at odds with the group. Social loafing becomes widespread. If everyone shares in the outcomes regardless of the who created the inputs, why create inputs?

Compromise becomes a necessity for everyone to agree. These compromises can lead to inferior outcomes. Collaboration also entails coordination costs. You need meetings to check everyone is on the same page, address concerns, and plan work etc…Collaboration can easily become dominated by a small group.

The opposite, of course, is competition. Competition fires up tribal motivations. People try harder and get the results they deserve. People are free to tackle any problem in any way they see fit. New ideas rise and fall on merit instead of through compromise. Competition breeds greater diversity.

Yet competition is destructive and wasteful too. It harms relationships and encourages bad behavior. You can beat an opponent by you doing better or them doing worse. Time can be wasted repeating bad ideas. People focus on winning instead of delivering the best outcome.

Do you focus on group success or individual success? Every time you reward or acknowledge an individual or a group, you’re promoting competition or collaboration. This is largely decided by the outcome you want and who benefits.

Competition works best when the outcome trumps group unity. We want top companies to compete ferociously to deliver the best products at the lowest price, for example. Industries develop quickest through intense competition, not close collaboration.

Collaboration works best when group unity trumps the outcome (or when each person has specialized expertise to add). For example, it’s usually best for employees to collaborate rather than compete.

You get to make this decision in your community. Be aware of the trade-offs. When the outcomes extend beyond those making the inputs, you probably want competition. If it doesn’t, aim for collaboration.


  1. Dean Samways says:

    Collaborative groups are always so much easier to work with. You very rarely are called on to firefight or manage a crisis.

    I’m drawn to communities with a common goal that everyone is working towards together. Competitive communities have a much higher tendency to become toxic and ineffective.

  2. Piper_Wilson says:

    Back when I was an air traffic controller negotiating with other facilities, management told us that our goal was not to compromise, although compromise was acceptable. Our goal was to come up with a solution that everyone could live with. We didn’t have to like the product, we just had to agree that the solution would be safe and workable for everyone involved.

  3. Richard Millington says:

    Isn’t this the definition of compromise? :slight_smile:

  4. Piper_Wilson says:

    @richard_millington - Nope. In a compromise, everyone gets something they want. In the FAA, you could walk away from the negotiation table getting absolutely nothing that you want but something you could live with. Their buzzword was consensus.

  5. Richard Millington says:

    hmm, I think the definition of compromise is about each side making a concession. But suspect we’re talking about the same thing in different terminology here. If it works, it works!

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