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When rivals vie for your attention

Keep dueling staffers from going too far

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in Leaders & Managers

Two of your best staffers also are ruthless competitors. Whenever one achieves something big, the other instantly tries to top it.

Competition can be motivating, but too much jockeying breeds ill will. Here’s how to keep your staffers from ripping each other apart:

Set limits on competitiveness. Let the rivals know that you won’t tolerate excessive competition. Back it up by clamping down on inappropriate behavior whenever it surfaces.

Avoid the appearance of favoritism. Your rivals may be vying for your favor, so dish it out in equal measure. Do not give them ammunition to use against each other. Never make seemingly harmless or innocent comments in which you compare their work habits, strengths or weaknesses. Showing favoritism will only increase their competitiveness.

Encourage cooperation. As long as their work remains distinct, dueling staffers will continue to compete. Have them work on projects that require collaboration and cooperation to achieve results.

Reward group efforts over individual achievements. Competition is fed by incentives and recognition systems that honor the individual rather than the whole team. Set goals that require contributions from your entire staff, such as group revenue targets and collective productivity milestones. Track performance on a centralized board and establish rewards for incremental improvement. Individual efforts should be acknowledged only when they contribute to the team’s effectiveness.

Channel competitive impulses. Competitive energies can be useful if they’re directed outward. Challenge your rivals to gauge their performance against another department or company, rather than against each other. Benchmark performance measures to generate competition that promotes the goals of the entire department. Can you organize a friendly contest between your department and another? Are performance figures available that would let you compare your team to another company’s? If you can’t eliminate competitive behavior, at least make it work for you.

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