Turning Competition Into Collaboration

Walking with the Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge


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?

 (photo credit)




14 thoughts on “Turning Competition Into Collaboration

  1. Great example of how collaboration enables us to achieve more when we work as a team instead of gutting it out on our own!

    Studies have shown that when soldiers (and others) are in extremely difficult situations, “relationships” are what gets them through…you’ve provided several excellent reasons of why people in business fail to work as a team to produce the best results.

    Thanks for sharing…and happy holidays!

  2. You make such an important point, Karin that there is a need sometimes for positive competition. If monitored well, competition creates extraordinary results. What I have seen lately, is leaders pinning team members against one another in an unhealthy way. That ends in low morale and a dissolution of teamwork.
    Thanks for sharing your great additions and post!

  3. What an interesting study LaRae about soldiers. It makes total sense that relationships are what got them through. People connections are what nourish us and empower us to get through difficult times.

    Leaders just need to be sensitive to when it is important to pull their troops together and foster a collaborative effort. Prince Harry realized this by the end and was successful.

    Thanks LaRae and Happy Holidays to you!

  4. Great post Terri! I especially loved the four tips that followed this comment in the post… How do leaders know when is the right time to ditch a competition and turn a project into a teamwork effort?

  5. Your article has sent me to Google! I totally missed this story but love that concerns for the climate turned a race into an opportunity to pull together. Truly, we can go further with strong relationships than pitting one person (or team) against another.

    I worked for a division where the managers were each charged with coming up with “the best” morning huddle and they were monitored for results. Ultimately, they began to share their best practices with each other once they realized that even though they had separate teams, they were a part of one division with a shared goal.

    Love this story and your important learnings too! Thanks, Terri!

  6. What a remarkable activity for managers to do and it totally makes sense. When we put our efforts into forging more of a teamwork culture, we realize how much we can learn from each other and piggy-back on those lessons.

    The Prince Harry story really got to me, Alli as I saw him in such a great leadership role with this journey. I learned from him as well.

    Have a great break and happy travels!

  7. What a great topic!

    We think that we are wired to compete but the truth is we do better when we collaborate.

    Life is much better lived when we connect with each and work with each other.

    Magic happens when you have connection and caring which equals collaboration.

    An important topic. I too have written a post that will be coming out in the new year on this topic.

    It is great to see we are thinking on the same lines.


  8. It is so true that we automatically think we should compete, but in actuality, when we collaborate we end achieving far greater results.

    It is the connection with people that allows the extraordinary to happen.

    Can’t wait to read your post, Lolly!


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