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Yegor Bugayenko
13 October 2015

Competition Without Rules Is Destructive

When your team has to choose which technical decision to make, who has the final say? When one of your colleagues asks for a raise, who decides, and what is his or her decision based on? When it’s necessary to work overtime, how is it decided who will stay in the office? I’m expecting you to shrug your shoulders. You’re right, these questions never have explicit answers in modern organizations. We are used to working in a more “democratic” way, where such decisions are made subjectively by managers or more senior employees. Is this how it should be?

We are trying to avoid explicitness in these sensitive subjects. Indeed, how can we tell Jeff that his salary is lower than Monica’s because his performance is worse? This will definitely lead to depression and negativity within the team, right?

What I’m trying to say is that we don’t set rules. We think that strict and explicit rules related to performance offend creative people. Well, all people.

We avoid explicitness in performance appraisals.

And this is totally wrong!

This is a mistake, and it causes big problems!

When a group doesn’t have explicitly defined principles of survival and growth, it starts to create them naturally. When people don’t know what exactly needs to be done in order to get a 15 percent raise, they find a way to get this information anyway. And guess what this information will end up being? Right—you have to make your boss happy; that’s how your chances for a raise improve.

Instead of working toward the goals set by the organization, we are fighting with each other for the attention of our boss. Instead of focusing on the results and their quality, we are reading the mood of our manager. Our fear becomes a guide for us.

Competition is inevitable in a group, especially if the group consists of creative people. Creativity is all about competition, as was demonstrated by Daniel P. Gross. Each of us wants to be better than the others, and this is what drives innovation. But if the team has no rules, even a minor competition seriously and negatively affects their motivation.

If you want your team to be creative and productive, clearly and explicitly define the rules of competition. Make sure everyone can get clear and straightforward answers at any time to questions like these:

Can you ask these questions in your team and easily get explicit answers?