I was so intrigued with Prince Harry’s recent trip to the South Pole with the 12 men and women who had previously been wounded in battle. They endured very harsh conditions, but never seemed to want to give up. The journey must have been so physically challenging that the team members must have kept a visualization in their minds about reaching their goal. However, the thing that most impressed me was how the team adventure morphed from being a competition to evolving into a collaboration. As conditions worsened, the team decided not to compete to arrive first, but rather how to reach the South Pole working together. What a novel idea!
The thing is, we know that some competition can be healthy and actually drive up results. For example, have you ever entered a contest and pushed yourself beyond your limits to achieve an extraordinary result? We see this with the Girl Scouts trying to sell as many cookies to secure a prize for their troop. We see writing contests where the articles published may not have been as comprehensive or fascinating if there hadn’t been a competition.
How do leaders know when is the right time to ditch a competition and turn a project into a teamwork effort?
Analyze the climate
Of course in Prince Harry’s case, he took this literally. Take a deep look at the work environment and take the temperature of the space. Assess whether people seem productive and not overly frustrated in what they are doing. Are individuals making positive steps moving forward or does it seem they are spinning around in the same place? Do people seem stuck or are they making strides? Is there noise? Noise may mean healthy activity and exploration.
Are targets and deadlines being missed?
One way for leaders to decide if the current path is the one they should be on is if milestones are being reached. It is a good idea to see if deadlines are being extended because that might mean the project will not be completed when predicted. Are resources not available or are the wrong processes in place?
Is communication breaking down?
One big warning sign that the competition is turning sour is a lack of communication between the team members. When we get very territorial about our own work we often stop sharing information with others. We become so focused on our particular endeavor that we forget to reach out and connect with others. Even everyday chitchat can disappear and a sense of friendliness dissolves. That can be a terrible strain for a team.
Will we reach our goal successfully?
Prince Harry and his teammates probably answered a big NO to this one. With the weather so severe and the team members suffering so many physical challenges, the South Pole didn’t seem reachable without a change in course. This is an important question to ask yourself and the team.
The young Royal and his superb team altered their strategy from competition to collaboration and they made it to the South Pole with teamwork and gumption.
Have you ever had to move from working in a competitive way to an environment of collaboration? What leadership lessons did you learn?