Five years ago, I took a surprising phone call from one of my peers at another Dale Carnegie office.

“Matt,” he said calmly. “We’ve been invited into an RFP by a large local company. We can’t win it by ourselves. Would you be open to collaborating with us on it and we’ll split the revenue?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. We’re an organization built on a legacy of internal competition.

And to be sure, that kind of competition has its benefits.

For starters, competition has motivated countless people in our organization to strive to achieve more. After all, in a competitive environment, you know where you stand, so you’re driven to strive harder.

Competition also creates clear accountability and focus: I stay in my lane, you stay in yours. My team’s counting on me to do my part so that we can succeed.

And finally, as author and Georgetown professor Cal Newport suggests, collaboration isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. It can actually be inefficient and distracting.

For these reasons, many organizations maintain competitive matrices of functional and line-of-business hierarchies.

On the other hand, as Patrick Lencioni explains in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, competition without enough collaboration can cause stress, exasperation and disappointment by forcing employees to fight seemingly unwinnable battles with people who should be teammates. Working together rather than against each other can make you both stronger.

Sure enough, my peer and I collaborated and won that big RFP. And I’m convinced neither of us would have won it alone. Had we only stayed in our lanes and land-grabbed for resources, we both would have gotten 100% credit…for nothing.

So, how do you optimize the competing dynamics of:

  • Sales credit for me versus sales credit for us
  • Resources for me versus resources for us
  • Timing for me versus timing for us

Try these seven tips:

  1. Tell a bigger story. Think of everyone as a character in a narrative. Some narratives tell the story of doing tasks for projects, while others tell the story of delivering projects that drive initiatives. And then there are those that tell the story of initiatives that create meaningful outcomes. These outcomes are what Lencioni calls thematic goals—a compelling context for working together.
  2. Deepen relationship capital. My peer who called five years ago to collaborate on the RFP wasn’t a stranger. He and I had proactively invested time and energy into a relationship. We encouraged each other and genuinely paid attention to each other. We continuously made deposits in a bank account on faith that it would matter.
  3. Understand the nuances of others’ priorities. One of my clients recently took the time to deepen his understanding of another team’s priorities. “I realized I’d made too many assumptions,” he said. “Just by listening and asking ‘why’ questions, I learned so much and gained useful background into their perspectives and motivations.” This has helped him better appreciate their priorities and understand how the two teams can help each other.
  4. Dialogue versus download. Let’s face it: When people aren’t totally aligned, it’s hard to listen to one another. Anyone trying to rationalize, defend, justify or suggest can only talk for about 60 seconds before the other party grows impatient. So you have to be concise and deliver your points in the spirit of opening up discussion. Try using this formula in 60-seconds or less:
      Here’s my point.
      This is why it’s important.
      Here’s evidence to support it.
      What are your thoughts?
  5. Let go of anxiety and stay aware of what triggers your emotions. Often, it’s hard to move beyond competition because people want to win too badly, or they want to be right too much, or they feel threatened or insecure. As I discussed in a post on emotional triggers, it’s important to internally monitor and release anxiety that you may feel as you compete with colleagues.
  6. Pursue the third alternative. In his book The 3rd Alternative, Stephen Covey explains that we don’t have to settle for either-or/win-loss/zero-sum alternatives. Instead, he suggests asking others, “Are you willing to go for a solution that is better than any of us have come up with yet?” This is the process of synergy that makes 1 + 1 = 3.
  7. Act enthusiastic. The origin of the word enthusiasm—en thus iasm—means “the spirit within.” It’s the energy, heart and belief in what you do that drive your goals while attracting others to collaborate for your cause. Dale Carnegie called enthusiasm the little-recognized secret of success. Perhaps it will help you to compete while working well across your organization.

Where do you walk the thin line between competition and collaboration? Which of these seven ideas would help you better collaborate in a competitive environment?

This article originally appeared at

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Posted by Matt Norman

Matt Norman is president of Norman & Associates, which offers Dale Carnegie Training in the North Central US. Dale Carnegie Training is a global organization that helps individuals and organizations achieve goals by improving the way they communicate, influence and lead. Matt’s coaching and facilitation has helped Fortune 100 corporations, non-profits and entrepreneurial firms to transform the way they engage employees and clients. He has trained sales leaders across the world on coaching and developing their salespeople, coached physicians and clinical staff on leadership and teaming skills, enhanced the marketing and business development skills of attorneys, engineers and commercial bankers, and helped shared services teams to create more value through their partnerships with the business. Matt has been named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal 40 Under Forty list, recognizing the community’s top young business and civic leaders. He has led his organization to double-digit revenue growth and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal has named Dale Carnegie Training Minnesota a top small company in its Best Places to Work awards for several consecutive years. TWITTER LINKEDIN

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