3 Aspects of Healthy Organizational Competition

A couple weeks ago now, my eldest son challenged our family to fill out a bracket for March Madness. My son suggested that the prize would be that the winning couple (since all the kids are married now) would be exempt from the responsibility of providing a meal when we gather together over the Fourth of July weekend this year. Everyone agreed, and we submitted our brackets by noon early last week before all the games started. (Guess who is in first place at the writing of this blog…:) A businessman crossing out teams on his busted March Madness bracket

My family communicates on a regular basis, but once March Madness was in full gear we were all texting and calling each other to comment on certain game upsets, as well as predicted outcomes for upcoming games. Even my daughter, who did cheerleading and theater in high school, was focused on the "madness," checking the game results and how it affected her bracket by the hour. My wife, who is an ordained minister and hasn’t watched one college game all year, is constantly checking in on the games to see how her predictions are fairing.

This spirited competition motivated our entire family to think strategically about the projected outcome, remain engaged through the entirety of the event, and increased our communication with each other.

Wouldn't it be great if we could apply this same competitive spirit to motivate the teams in our organizations?

Yes, it would be great, and I believe we can! Here are the three things you need to integrate this healthy competitive spirit into your organization's culture:

Identify the Goal and the Vision

Tell your team what it is they are working towards and why. Make it clear and concise so that they could repeat it back to you or explain it well to someone else. Knowing the end goal will give your team direction and motivate them as they strive towards it.

What Not To Do: Assume that once you have communicated a goal or a vision that people in the organization automatically get it! One of the significant works of the leader is to keep repeating and bringing people back to the goal and the vision. Your role is often to prevent straying and distractions from the desired outcomes.

Identify Rules and Measurements

With March Madness, not being able to change your bracket is part of the fun and gamble. However, our workplace shouldn't be a gamble where we role the dice and see what happens, or blindly guess based upon no information. In order to create a healthy competition, there needs to be rules, parameters, and boundaries that the team members are expected to abide by. Fair play will be respected and rewarded as a way to encourage others, allowing them to trust the system created. There should be check-points to allow your team to measure how well they are doing and consider whether their strategy needs to be reevaluated to reach the goal.

What Not To Do: Let people off the hook if they don’t meet the goal. Accountability doesn’t always have to mean retribution, penalty, or punishment, but it should have enough teeth in it so that you build a culture of trust. According to Patrick Lencioni in his "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" work, a lack of accountability is a significant cause of organizational mistrust.

Identify the Reward

Think about how you can reward your team when goals are met. How might the reward motivate them personally as well as collectively? What is the reward and how would it be received by the individual you are rewarding? You don't want to give a reward to someone that you wouldn't want yourself, or perhaps what you would want differs from others. These are just a few things to consider before deciding what the reward will be.

What Not To Do: Make reward a drag. If your people are working long hours, please don’t schedule another team builder that is going to require more of their personal time. If a team builder is important, why not do it at 2pm on Friday? Rewards should be something they enjoy, not something they dread.


  • Look back at your calendar. How many times have you repeated the goals and visions for your organization this year? Are you assuming because you said it once two years ago that they are connected with it? Just because the goals and visions run around in your head all day, doesn’t mean it reaches the cerebral cortex of others in your organization.
  • Assess the level of accountability your team has with each other. Do they hold each other accountable, or is this your role? A high performing team holds each other accountable and doesn’t leave this level of responsibility solely with the leader.
  • Reward your team this week. You are almost at the end of the quarter and I bet you can find something that the group is doing really well. Why not reward them? Find something they enjoy and implement the reward this week. Don’t put it off. Schedule it now!