Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Create a Culture of Healthy Competition

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When I hire, I look for people who are goal-oriented, previously successful, well-prepared, and competitive. I aim to create a winning and hard-charging culture in a sales organization, and these types of people tend to perform best in this type of environment.

But, competitiveness can also hinder your culture if it becomes toxic—think undermining, backstabbing, and a “me first” mentality. So, what are some things you can do to ensure your team operates in a competitive—but still healthy—environment?

As a sales leader for companies large and small, here are four pillars that I’ve found successful.

1. Team and Company Vision Is Bigger Than All

“Team first” is a critical mentality your group must have. Yes, each person is ranked against each other, but there is a bigger picture here, and what they’re really working toward are the goals of the team as a whole.

How do you build that mindset? Set team goals, celebrate those wins, and empower individuals to take responsibility for the team’s success by showing them what their contribution means to the organization.

Here at The Muse, we make our monthly and quarterly goals very public, and we celebrate each individual as they help us get closer to those team wins. When someone closes a deal, we celebrate by playing a “walk-up” song as the seller puts the deal on the scoreboard (Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” was a recent favorite!). Updating each person’s individual achievement and the team’s total progress toward our goal is an instant reminder that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. And just the act of each team member updating that board builds ownership over the larger number.

2. Personal Goals Matter

That said, your team will be winning if each individual is winning, so it’s important to create an environment in which they can do just that.

Every quarter at The Muse, team members share with the group what their personal and professional goals are—anything from buying a new car and saving for a down payment for a house to getting promoted and learning a new skill. This way, instead of solely competing with one another when it comes to the sales numbers on the board, people understand what everyone else is working toward. They help each other achieve their goals and stay accountable, and it brings everyone closer together as a result.

3. Have Fun, Keep Score, Win!

Life’s more fun with a smile, so be sure you hire people who will thrive—and have fun—in both a competitive and a team-oriented environment. Your star players are the ones who will be asking themselves not only “What does the scoreboard say?” and “Who’s on top?” but also, “How is the team pacing?” “If I’m trying to get better, who is the rep I need advice from?” “If I'm on top, who can I help bring up?”

For me, this means digging deep into specific examples of how they may have done this in the past, personally or professionally. Some questions that may be useful are: “How have you improved your team atmosphere previously (personally or professionally)?” “Tell me about the biggest challenge you’ve had in your previous role: What did you do to improve the situation?” Or, for an entry-level role, ask about candidates’ toughest college class: How did they get help to improve performance in the class? How about time when they helped a classmate?

4. Constant State of Improvement

While you obviously want to hire great people, you also want to create an environment that promotes ongoing coaching, improvement, and self-awareness. You may ask yourself what this has to do with a competitive environment—but in my experience, the most competitive individuals are competitive with themselves, first and foremost. As a leader, that means you must create an environment that challenges these individuals every day.

You can do this in plenty of ways—from one-on-one coaching feedback sessions to team trainings to even book clubs. At The Muse, we know details matter: Small improvements in our sales process make a huge difference. Thus, we use a Google Doc for coaching feedback—we’ve created drop downs analyzing how we performed at each step of the sale; either below expectations, meets expectations, or above expectations. Google Docs provides us the opportunity to populate all this data into graphs and analyze as a team and as individuals what we are doing well and where we need improvement.

You may wonder how you can sniff this out in an interview. Projects or mock sales calls that end in a feedback session are a great way to see how a candidate accepts and implements constructive criticism.

Competition drives success, but it can be a fine line between a great environment and an uncomfortable one. Hopefully you can implement some of the above to make sure your team is thriving!

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