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Yes. Competitors Can Collaborate.

Yesterday I wrote about the concept of competing with your own team.

Today, I want to take it one step further and talk about how competitors can collaborate.

As it happened, yesterday I listened to Andy Penn, CEO of Telstra, address the National Press Club.  He was discussing the future of the telecommunications industry in Australia.

One aspect addressed was the issue of cybercrime. What resonated for me was when he talked about working with the industry, including his competitors, and the Government to combat this threat: 

“The only way to look at cyber is as a team. Large enterprises, small enterprises, medium business, Government, we all have shared platforms, common customers, and we’re all the target of the same attacks. We all, therefore, play a role in keeping Australian’s safe. It’s a shared accountability. It’s not a competition. If one party loses, we all lose. As the online landscape continues to expand, we cannot afford to operate in silos, and we must work together.”

– Andy Penn, National Press Club Address, 31 July 2019

There is any number of ways for competitors to work with one another.  They just need to find common ground, which is an essential first step. That requires us to look at our competitors as having something to contribute rather than as a foe to be vanquished.

Imagine what you could achieve if you were to work with your competitors towards a common goal.


Are You Competing With Your Own Team?

Competitive people have a desire to win. On the surface, you might not think there is anything wrong with that. But what if the person they are competing with is someone in the same company or organisation?

This happens more often than you realise.  

  • If there is a culture that recognises individual performance, there will be competitiveness;
  • If there are rewards or bonuses for getting higher sales figures, there will be competitiveness;
  • If the company promotes the person who gets the best results, there will be competitiveness.

The competitive person sits across the table from the people they are ‘competing with’ and says, “I need to be better than you.”  This approach promotes an adversarial relationship which may not encourage cooperation or collaboration.

The culture will have a part to play in this. The system may be set up to promote it. You may not be in a position to change the system.  You may not be able to have a significant impact on the culture. If, however, you find yourself thinking competitively, a simple mindset shift can help you move into a better space.

Rather than say, “I need to be better than you,” shift your frame of mind to, “What can I learn from you?”  This perspective will put you into a growth mindset rather than an adversarial one. It will offer you opportunities to work with your team rather than against one another, and it will promote relationship building rather than competition.


On Control … Again

Yesterday I wrote about control and influence. A few more thoughts on the subject …

Think about the unhappiest or angriest people you know.  What are they trying to control that they can’t?

In my experience, the unhappiest people of the world, (including me at one point), are those trying to control every aspect of their own and other people’s lives.  They are seeking certainty and predictability. They are looking for safety and security in their certainty.

The happiest people have let go and are more curious about their lives and the world in general. They understand the limits of what they can control, and the randomness of the world allows them to be surprised and amazed.

What are you controlling that you can’t?

What would be the impact on your life if you let go?

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others.”

– Unknown

“It’s Time To Learn A Few New Jokes”

In 2012, the University of Melbourne Centre for Ethical Studies produced a report entitled Resilience: Women’s Fit Functioning and Growth at Work: Indicators and Predictors. At the time it was published as part of the Gender Equality Project.

The report aimed to:

“analyse indicators that are typically considered when assessing gender diversity strategies and then analyse the personal and organisational factors that predict these different outcomes.” [1]

The report is detailed, comprehensive and made five recommendations for improving gender equality in organisations.

Of these five recommendations, there was one that resonated for me quite strongly. Recommendation number 4 read as follows:

“Target low-level sexism through a range of strategies, such as a “no just joking” policy.”

In the discussion of this recommendation [2], the paper highlights how low-level sexism through jokes makes women feel uncomfortable and that they do not belong or are not welcome.  When challenged, perpetrators of this behaviour would respond by saying they were “just joking” as if this made their behaviour acceptable because it was just a bit of fun with no harm intended.

The problem is there is harm committed.

Firstly, this kind of behaviour creates a “stereotype threat” which increases the potential for bias (perceived or real, conscious or non-conscious) in those making the jokes. 

Secondly, the study found, there are negative impacts on women’s health and retention. Retention is important because when women leave an organisation, they take away the unique skill sets they offer as individuals, and this impacts the capability of the organisation.

It would seem, on the surface, a straightforward idea to create a “no just joking policy”. The report recommends the simple act of an apology, when challenged, should be enough to resolve this behaviour at a low level before it escalates.

I will leave the final comment on this matter to the report writers:

“…the point needs to be made that the loss of one source of humour is not the death of humour. It merely indicates that it is time to learn a few new jokes.”


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  2. Page 20

What Else Is Happening?

We’ve all got them. That one person or that group of people that we find difficult. [1]

I’ve written before about how people have a “right thing” and how taking others’ perspectives can help you understand motives.

What if we were to take it one step further?

Maintaining a curious mindset (check the voice in your head for tone) try to understand what is going on around the person with whom you are interacting.

Here are some questions that might help you do that (I am going to use a fictitious protagonist named Morgan here): [2]

  • Who is Morgan’s boss or manager? What pressures are they under that Morgan might be picking up on? How could that be informing Morgan’s behaviour or thinking?
  • What policies, procedures or legislation is Morgan using to inform his decision making? What effect might that be having on him?
  • Has Morgan dealt with a similar experience to the one we are discussing today? What happened last time? How is that informing Morgan’s thinking and behaviour?
  • What other influences are there on Morgan at the moment that could be impacting our conversation?

These questions are not exhaustive, but they do help you see some of the other forces of the system at play. As you take a step back and view different aspects of the system, test out your questions.

I encourage you to take a broader view of your difficult conversations, understand what else might be happening, and how that could be playing out in your interactions.


[1] Lately, I have moved away from the concept of “difficult people” to “people I find difficult.  It puts the onus back on me to develop my empathy and understand others better.

[2] You don’t have to ask these questions out loud. Asking the question about your “Morgan” primes you to see events and behaviours to help you answer the questions. Of course, nothing is stopping you from asking the questions out loud either.

Do you really need to say “need”?

The word ‘need’ comes up quite a lot in conversation with my clients.

When it does it is usually followed by the question, “What would happen if you didn’t meet that ‘need’?”

Most of the time, after some discussion, we discover there are consequences, and being aware of those consequences is an essential component of any decision-making process.

Meeting that specific ‘need’, however, is rarely a matter of life and death.

I am often curious as to the pressure that we put on ourselves by using the word ‘need’ unnecessarily.