How An IT Leader Can Manage Competitive Arousal In Their Team

Competition Can Change IT Workers Into Bad Decision Makers
Competition Can Change IT Workers Into Bad Decision Makers

It’s great to have an IT team that is full of go-getters. However, as with everything in life, sometimes teammates can be too competitive. When we let the heat of battle overcome our better judgement, then we’ve got a real problem. When this happens, we stand a very good chance of starting to make very bad decisions. Long after the competition has been resolved, we’ll still be living with the effects of those decisions and that can come back to haunt us over and over again.

Last time we discussed that rivalry, time pressure, and a bright spotlight of public attention can all contribute to making us become competitively arroused. This is how we start to make bad decisons. Given all of this, now lets spend some time talking about what can be done by IT leaders to manage competative arousal within their teams.

An IT leader can work to prevent problems by minimizing the potential for competitive arousal to occur in the first place by doing two things: avoiding the certain types of interaction that can lead to competition among teammates, and working to defuse the common risk factors that can lead to excessively competitive behavior.

In the first case, an IT leader needs to have the ability to think like a chess master and look into the future. He/she is looking to identify those interpersonal dynamic conditions that could lead to competitive arousal within their team. Once an IT leader has spotted these potentially volatile conditions, then they can step in and can work to restructure the deal making process into one that they believe will still lead to a successful outcome while not leading to a overly competitive situation.

Additionally, an IT leader needs to be constantly working to defuse the risk factors that may lead their teammates to enter into competitive arousal. There are three ways that this can be done:

  • Reduce Potential Rivalry: Luke Skywalker was motivated to overthrow the Empire at all costs because he saw it as being “evil”. When IT workers start to view rivals as being “bad”, or “evil” they can start to view winning as being required no matter what the cost. When this happens, the IT leader needs to identify who is feeling the greatest amount of rivalry and then limit their role. Another helpful approach is to do your homework before the competition begins. Clearly lay out how much you are willing to “lose” in order to “win”. Doing this before competitive arousal kicks in ensures a more rational decision will be reached.
  • Slow Down The Clock: In order to reduce the pressure that a ticking clock brings to the table, an IT leader needs to search for ways to stop the clock or at least to extend its window of time. Deadlines are almost always too short in which to complete the work. Extending or eliminating them is a key IT leader job.
  • Dimming The Public Spotlight: A great way to take the burden of meeting public expectations off the shoulder of individual IT staffers is to spread the decision making responsibility across multiple members. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it go a long way towards reducing the stress felt by individual team members.

Although it’s not often that the IT leader is the one who is getting caught up in a competitive situation, he/she does play a key role. The ability to anticipate that a member of the department is going to enter into a rivalry situation, come under time pressure, or get caught in a spotlight is part of an IT leader’s job. In the end, we all overestimate just how rational, careful, and even logical that we are in high pressure situation. It’s the role of an IT leader to save us from making bad decisions when we find ourselves there.

Have you ever had to diffuse a rivalry situation within your department? Did you see it before it became a problem or did you have to react after things started to get bad? Have you ever been able to remove a deadline that was causing your team to start to make bad decisions? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.