Collaboration versus Competition

November 17, 2014

Working with others is never easy. It takes hard work and the proper mindset to accomplish.

This is a lesson taught to small children with varying degrees of success. I learned from an early age that sharing was important. I was taught to play well with others and to understand that others have needs that may differ from my own. I needed to work with the other children to meet my objectives, sometimes with compromise, as well as meet theirs. This is a lesson in collaboration that was taught early but was easy to forget as I grew older.

As I matured into adulthood I was taught the value and importance of competition. From class standings to team/individual sports, there was a strong element of competition that was not only tolerated, it was encouraged. We were taught to seize the advantage, exploit weakness, and rely upon ourselves. These aspects are lauded by society. Competition comes to dominate our lives as it can be seen everywhere we look.

Competition, rather than collaboration, has becomes the norm.

Making the transition from competition to collaboration is not easy. I have witnessed the transformation many times over the years and have learned the hard way. My hope is that my experiences can help others.

**Problem: Hiring individuals and hoping that they will be team players

There is a fundamental flaw in recruiting processes for many software companies. Every recruiter desires to “land” the “Best of the best®” as he looks at soon-to-be graduates. The competition of the recruiters from differing companies can become fairly intense as they strive for that elusive top 1% candidate. On the other side of that equation, the candidates are vying for position amongst their peers for that top ranking, competing against each other in a high stakes game. Even though they may be the best candidate on paper, we do not know how well they will work on a team. We hire them with the hope that they will continue to shine and expect them to integrate with collaborative teams building software. The dichotomy between the behaviors they know and the behaviors we expect can be jarring and can lead to dissatisfaction if not handled correctly.

A Mindset Change

How can we change the mindset of the employee that is focused inwardly, rather than outwardly?

There is a very simplified mantra that goes through my head:

*Trust the individual to learn
*Teach him the value of a team
*Provide opportunities to teach
*Trust your team

It all starts with trust.


I believe that college teaches you one major thing: how to learn. Individuals who graduate at the top of their class have proven that they can adapt faster than their peers, learning the subject matter faster or more thoroughly than those around them. They know how to apply the knowledge they have gained.

Any candidate that has made it through our recruiting process deserves to be at SEP. I trust them to learn quickly and apply the knowledge gained, imperfectly at first but better later on.


When creating software, teams succeed or fail, not individuals. One of the easiest lessons to teach a candidate is that success is evaluated at the team level. That lesson is, however, one of the most difficult to assimilate as it feels contrary to the competition mindset that most candidates are firmly rooted in. The transition to focusing on a team’s success rather than their individual success is often difficult.

The transition from competitive to collaborative can be either slow, fast, or disastrous depending on the individual and the systems you put in place to support them. I have seen both success and failure when attempting to integrate a new candidate into a fully collaborative team. One thing that has stood out for me is that the support mechanisms that are put in place are permanent things. Candidates come to expect the support of management and the trust granted. Why should they not? Collaborative teams require invested leaders. We need to be invested in the team, not just for the short term, but for the duration.