From Competition to Collaboration

Aspiring to “win” is an excellent strategy for elections and athletic events, but not for leadership. The language we use as a leader impacts the organisation on all levels. Leadership is about finding a balance between our needs and the needs of others. The “winner/loser” mentality means MY goals are accomplished at YOUR expense. 

In the old paradigm of ‘every man for himself’, that made some sense.  However, as we move into the new era, “achieving” is a far better aim because it takes into account the bigger picture of our interdependency. We are WAY too interconnected for the winner/loser mentality to be effective for anything more than a flash in the pan or a one-hit-wonder at best.

By the very nature of most hierarchical organisations, competing shows up in the amount of work that gets done and by whose ideas are accepted toward problem solving . Competition can increase through building sideline support prior to meetings and/or sabotaging the perceived competitors by withholding information, taking credit for work done by others, and silencing contrary (competitive) voices. In each case, the competitiveness of the individual undermines the success of the team or organisation. Moreover, it is indicative of behaviour that is not trustworthy and exposes ineffective leadership qualities.

“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.”
― Criss Jami

The Problem with Competition

Competition is supposed to be supportive of innovation, which is why there are competitions for solving difficult maths problems, finding cures and treatments for disease, or for creating the first human-powered helicopter. Many of our technological achievements come from the competitive market. However, competition is often the enemy of innovation – particularly when you are already successful. Competition might be somewhat motivating for the underdog but competition for a high-achiever can be paralysing. Competition, especially when you’re doing well, has a narrowing rather than a broadening effect. This is why disruptive innovation has, in nearly every case, come from the underdog or the one not in the race at all.

Competition incites worry and amplifies the strength of our insecurities — what if someone does it better than you? What if they just are better than you? The outdated dog-eat-dog mindset that competition is king is one of the biggest lies we’ve ever been told and, as a society, we are now faced with the detrimental outcomes of the resulting imbalance. Competition spawns a culture of back-stabbing, in-fighting and resource hoarding. We only need to look around at the crumbling systems and structures of the world’s elite, whose journey is paved with pain, suffering and worse for themselves and everyone involved. Competition is not creation – it is taking away from others, causing suffering. This is simply not sustainable.

With a competitive mindset, there is never ever enough, only a void to be filled with more and more. Desires are purely external factors, like more money, more fame, more attention. When this energy manifests with conflict and control, fear has taken the reins and we experience a raft of behaviours triggered from an energy of proving, struggling, achieving to prove worthiness, and feeling fear of not being loved or accepted.

“I am convinced that the jealous, the angry, the bitter, and the egotistical are the first to race to the top of mountains. A confident person enjoys the journey, the people they meet along the way, and sees life, not as a competition. They reach the summit last because they know God isn’t at the top waiting for them. He is down below helping his followers to understand that the view is glorious where ever you stand.”
― Shannon Alder

Crossing the Line

Anxiety and excitement are very different emotional responses to competition. More importantly, these emotions make people behave differently. Several studies conducted by HBR show that when employees interpret their arousal from a competition as anxiety, they are less likely to select creative behaviours to solve problems, and more likely to be unethical. Conversely, when people interpret their arousal from competition as excitement, they are more likely to select creative behaviours to solve problems, and less likely to be unethical.

When there is competition in the workplace, people hoard systems, information and even support staff. They’re less likely to share all kinds of resources — physical and intellectual. Those who see solutions for problems don’t share them until they can be sure they’ll get the credit. It’s impossible to get to the best ideas when people refuse to share and work through thinking together. When competition is in play, people don’t trust each other enough to authentically create stretch goals that will enable everyone to grow beyond where they are now.

Darwin’s theory of biological change was based on competition, or survival of the fittest, among the individuals making up a species. What he failed to take into account was the interdependent relationships between living things, called symbiosis, in which completely different forms of life depend on each other to exist. If you sincerely want a group of people to be high-performing together, you don’t want to create a culture of internal competition within the team.

“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.”
― Lance Armstrong

The Emotional Impact of Competition vs Collaboration

The fear of surrender can stem from the fear of losing. The winner-loser mentality creates false beliefs and misunderstandings about the value of surrender. The act of surrendering implies humility, releasing resistance, unburdening or relief. It can be seen as renouncing our need to control every aspect of our lives so we can stay open to possibilities and the wonder of the unknown. Collaboration is respectfully working together to achieve a goal or to explore something of mutual importance. Partnerships require respect for each other and a high level of communication, so each can work to their strengths and assist each other at the same time. As time passes, the competitive approach loses its edge and collaboration makes much more of an impact. Here are the emotions people are experiencing in both situations, as well as their pros and cons.


When you are in competition, you are driven to achieve results, but this is often accompanied by fear, stress, and resentment. You are worried about performing beyond your abilities in order not to lose what is already achieved.



Urgency to complete a project

Better productivity

Extreme stress

Possibility of malicious behaviour

Resentment of potential partners


When you are collaborating, you can still be driven to achieve results, but with less fear or worry. Your desire is to achieve joint goals.



Space for constructive criticism

More creativity due to better sharing

Reduced costs

Improved quality

Different working styles

Potential for some people to ride on the coat-tails of the collaborative result

When people are working in a competitive environment, they are under continuous stress. The energy they could use for achieving goals is wasted on trying to find ways to outrun the competition. They feel an urgency to complete every project before the competition does it faster and better. While this can help with maintaining tight deadlines, such an approach can have a negative impact on the quality of work. When stressed and pushed to beat competitors, people make mistakes, overlook important matters, compromise their ethics, and eventually burn out. Even if they achieve certain goals in the process, they may not be ready to perform to their full potential moving forward.

In a collaborative environment, people feel more relaxed. They share the responsibility with partners, thus feeling less stressed. Meanwhile, they aren’t racing to get the job done. A calm and friendly atmosphere allows a person to take a more holistic approach to each task. It improves the overall quality of work, and quality of life.

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.”
― Amit Ray

Competitive Collaboration – Sleeping with the enemy

Building relationships with competitors is more than trying to avoid an all-out war. It’s learning how to turn a potential threat to your business into a tremendous benefit. So, whether you are just starting a business or feeling as if your momentum is stalling, this strategy could be the boost you need to your business, your momentum, and your bottom line. Competitive collaboration can help you boost profits, improve brand awareness, attract your target audience, and much more.

By nature, the social sector already supports a culture of collaboration. This is evident in the ways not-for-profit organisations share resources, fundraising advice, community building ideas, critical industry insights, and relevant data with each other. In saying that, there’s an all-too-human element that gets in the way of true collaboration: the ego. As countless not-for-profits work on behalf of worthy causes, they can also tend to focus on or prioritise their own organisation’s role or mark on the cause over the progress that can be made in conjunction with others.

Competition, spurred by the Ego, leaks into parts of the social sector when people want to be the first to achieve their mission. They want to be the first to bring fresh water to communities, end world hunger, or cure a disease. If we can take the Ego out of the equation, we see that it’s not important who crosses the finish line first. Rather, it’s far more important that we cross the finish line at all. We all have a responsibility to lift each other up so that both the social and private sectors move closer to accomplishing their goals. This commitment to each other flows between all organisations in the role of co-creating a new and better world. There are countless ways we can lift each other up on a daily basis. It can be as simple as sharing lessons learned from different campaigns or pro tips for streamlining operational processes.

“Being better or different from competitors is not enough anymore. Being a mission-focused organisation will attract, engage, and retain well-aligned customers, colleagues, and collaborators.”
― Suzanne F. Stevens

3 Examples of Successful Competitive Collaborations

Businesses become successful because they offer solutions. Just as a team will trump an individual every time, more often than not, a business can’t provide a perfect solution on its own. By focusing on outrunning the competition, it eventually runs out of funding and fails to provide the right solutions to people’s problems. Here are some well-known examples of competitive collaboration.

Deliveroo + Uber

One of the simplest examples of a successful collaboration comes from Deliveroo and Uber. These companies build their strategy on collaboration. Deliveroo finds clients for restaurants that don’t have delivery options. Uber helps taxi drivers get more clients. Both companies and their partners win. This collaboration helped both companies become more popular and meet more customers needs.

Microsoft + Intel

One of the most famous competitive collaborations is Microsoft and Intel. They created Wintel Alliance, where Intel worked on the hardware and Microsoft created the software. While the alliance has since fizzled out, back in the day the two giants collaborated to build software and hardware platforms and brought their tech to virtually every home and business in the world.

Pfizer + Merck

Another successful example of competitive collaboration is the powerful alliance between Pfizer and Merck. These big pharma companies entered a strategic partnership, leveraging their individual research capabilities to bring new cancer treatments to the market as soon as possible.

The power to create lasting impact that elevates not just your organisation, but the entire planet, is at your fingertips. It doesn’t matter where you work, the size of your organisation, or what your mission is: we’re all in this together.

“Collaboration begins with focusing on the collective good rather than personal gain.”
― Jane Ripley

5 Types of Competitive Collaborations

When looking for a partner, you may not have to go far, especially if you run a local business. Start with those you are on speaking terms with. If you have already established some type of professional relationship, the collaboration won’t seem that strange to them. It doesn’t always have to be with your direct competitors either. Here are a few types of competitive collaborations you may want to consider:

1. Support a Charity

A charitable cause is the simplest way to start a collaboration. It can give both of you a push toward the negotiation table. As a bonus, you get to help people.

2. Enter a New Market 

You make amazing forks, the competition makes awesome spoons. Join together to create cutlery kits. Sound too simple? That’s exactly what Ford and Toyota did in 2011. Of course, this approach requires a formidable investment from both parties, but it’s better than doing it alone!

3. Buy in Bulk 

As a fork manufacturer, you must be paying for a lot of metal. Collaborate with your spoon competitor to bulk purchase metal together. This way, you can cut huge costs quickly (provided it’s within the law of the land).

4. Cross Endorsement 

You are selling amazing forks. You joined the spoon manufacturer to make awesome cutlery kits. But wouldn’t it be great if your kits were selling alongside dinnerware for restaurant and hotel clients? Cross-selling is offering to sell your product as a nice add-on to a larger item. Both companies win! You sell your forks, your partner (the dinnerware seller) offers its clients a full range of products for their dining purposes.

5. Complementary Business 

Let’s say, for whatever reason you can’t work directly with the snobby spoon seller. Instead, you can help market a competitors’ company. When people come to buy forks, they probably need spoons too. Refer them to your partner-to-be. You can refer them to the knife-maker as well. Referrals work both ways. Just be careful that you are referring your clients to a company that cares about quality. The reputation of your business can be compromised by sending customers to someone who sells low-quality products.

The bottom line is that no matter how small your company or how little you feel you can bring into a relationship, competitive collaboration is the way of the future. This type of partnership is already the standard, rather than an option. A careful approach to choosing the right partner coupled with well-thought-out limits and regular maintenance can help your business thrive.

“Collaboration is key, it takes innovation and creativity to the next room.”
― Shawn Lukas

Top 5 Tips for Successful Competitive Collaboration

The following tips can help you maintain your competitive collaboration while it’s still offering benefits. There are different laws in different states and countries. Seek expert advice to ensure you are operating within the law of the land.

  1. Remain a Separate Entity

Maintain your sovereignty so you don’t lose yourself entirely. Becoming too dependent on your partner is a recipe for disaster. Maintain your ability to work separately.

  1. Be Ready for the Collaboration to End Tomorrow

You can never predict or control what your competitor-turned-partner will do next. Collaborative competition is not a true partnership. It may end at any time, so plan accordingly.

  1. Continuous Learning

View your collaboration as one of the best things that could happen to your company. By embracing competitive collaboration, you are learning and becoming inspired. It’s an opportunity for growth. Whenever the collaboration ends, if it does, both of you should come out as winners. Why wouldn’t you learn the tips and tricks offered by the competition?

  1. Show How Much You Care

Nurturing your relationship is vital. Building trust, transparent communication, and continually showing how important the relationship is to your company is the path to success. This works both ways for equal reciprocity. If the partner isn’t doing the same for you, it should raise a big red flag.

  1. Plan for the Future

Consider the future of your partnership. A strategic collaboration can turn into a financial relationship. The company may have the finances you need to invest in a new project. This kind of collaboration can eventually turn into a merger or acquisition. As you expand the market for both of you, the relationship will create more opportunities over time. Combine your strengths to work on new projects.

“Collaboration is an important part of the process, and Ego is never a part of it.”

– Mack Wilberg

It’s All a BIG Fat Lie

The underlying concept of competition that society is programmed with is a bald-faced lie. Worse – it’s an unnecessary lie and it’s getting old. The pursuit of “success at any cost” will probably bring about the very opposite. Because we’ve been brought up with the belief that competition is inherent to success, we often look at others as possible threats, whether that’s fighting for a partner or a promotion. The truth is that when you compare and compete, you immediately eliminate your ability to be happy for someone else, and you rob another person of the capacity to be happy for you one day. Everyone deserves to be celebrated for the accomplishments they have created for themselves. People deserve to be taken for who they are, and not categorised by how they fare in comparison to their peers.

If you want to create a culture that will produce breakthrough results, collaboration trumps competition by a long shot. You want people to understand what their individual strengths are so they can pool those strengths and move toward a common vision. Once collaboration is in place, people are much more trusting of each other, more willing to stretch themselves, and more likely to create amazing results.

At this time in the history of humanity, whole systems are transitioning on a personal and planetary scale, affecting every aspect of life and relationship, as we know it. Patterns of possibility are emerging that have never before been available to our world, provided we can achieve balance. As society begins to take on a new shape, workers will require collaboration, not competition.

“A clear purpose will unite you as you move forward, values will guide your behaviour, and goals will focus your energy.”

― Kenneth H. Blanchard

Collaboration for the Win

Establishing a collaborative environment is just the beginning of a more successful venture. For collaboration to work it must be consistent and purposeful, with resources and rewards dedicated to its success. You may have many standout successes in your company already, and you can increase your productivity exponentially by getting them to work as a collaborative team. When team members feel they are a part of something exceptional they are more than willing to work together to smash their goals out of the park. Collaboration works because there is nothing more meaningful, bonding, or growth-promoting than a shared win.

“Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow.”

—David Hume


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