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Manage Rivalry & Rise Above Competitive Retaliation

Updated on August 22, 2016

Mankind has been participating in rivalries since the first arguments, fences, walls, tribes and competitions came into existence. It is fair to say that rivalry is in our DNA. When healthy, these rivalries allow us to innovate, create and compete on a higher level collectively. Nonetheless, when unhealthy they can become all-encompassing and destructive – especially when the rivalries are internal.

The dark side of rivalry has been described as, “counterproductive tactics which leads to alarming behavior and competitive retaliation” by researchers at Pepperdine University. At times even leading to “dirty trick” campaign’s like those mentioned in the libel suit Virgin Airway won against British Airway in 1993. (In this particular instance B. A. went as far as calling V. A. customers and falsifying claims that their flights had been cancelled. In addition, false information was released stating that Richard Bronson – the president of V. A. – had HIV in an attempt to damage the brand.)

So how do we safeguard our teams from destructive rivalry without curtailing innovation / competition?

Encourage Competition

By creating an environment where productive competition is rewarded; you prime your team to expect rivalry and spoils for victory.

Once incentives are in place the goals is to bring timid associates out of their shell and channel the impact of your more aggressive associates. With the aim of fostering an environment that accepts and promotes challenge throughout organization.

Compete From The Top Down

I want them on their knees. Begging for mercy. Pleading for their lives. Confessing every sin. Kill! Kill! Kill!” – Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, “speaking” to fellow executives about Ingres, his company’s primary rival in the early ‘80’s.

Ellison’s choice of words may seem obsessive and overly abrasive, but you cannot deny that he is setting the tone for his peers and subordinates.

When upper management leads "from the front" the associates know who the opposition is and consequently your team will be less likely to divert attention in a counterproductive manner.

Turn Off The Waterfall

It is natural for an experienced leader to want to call all of the plays for his team, but this form of micro management can alienate assets and stifle associate growth. By only allowing room for top down communication -- alternative perspectives may be overshadowed or remain silent in fear of retaillation for disrupting the chain of command.

Leaders who break their associates up into small groups / innovation teams to solve problems encourage growth, unvarnished feedback and competition simultaneously. Thus, allowing the front line to design the plays / plans and report back to leadership for advice, guidance and executive production of the best ideas / designs.

Open the Door to Competition but Don’t Remove the Walls

If you have ever watched a highly contested sporting event you understand the importance of letting “the teams play,” in highly contested moments during the game: The referee’s take their mouths off the whistle and within reason let the players decide the fate of the game.

The concept of “letting them play” applies across channels. When you allow your associates / groups / departments to work through critical operational moments you force them to test their limits and consequently bring life to the quote:

Competitive freedom is important to maximize your team / product growth and potential. [With in reason]

That said, prudent leadership will establish perimeters to insure that the competition never goes too far or ventures into the dark side of rivalry.


Have you ever experienced the 'Dark Side' of competition?

See results

Healthy rivalry has been at the foundation of our collective growth and when administered correctly can be a corner stone of your team’s overall success.

Disrupt and Win.

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