Basketball and Business: Ending Internal Competition

By Mark Eaton, former professional basketball player, speaker and president of, LLC.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), when anyone on a team is playing for himself rather than the team as a whole, failure is eminent. In business, when anyone in the company has an “I” mentality, it’s only a matter of time until failure creeps into the organization.

In my experience as an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, I’ve learned that success is not about discipline— it’s about teamwork. Without teamwork, people don’t cooperate, collaborate or innovate. A group of people working together is not necessarily a team. Groups are committed to an ideal, goal or person; teams are committed to each other.

As entrepreneurs, you know that many employees have an “I-have-to-look-out-for-myself” attitude. Staff members think they have to constantly defend themselves and watch their space. As such, they’re more concerned about their own well-being than where the company is going, what the company’s goals are and how those goals are going to be met. As long as people are focused on internal competition, the company won’t go far.

In basketball there’s a saying that no one cares if you score 30 points per night on a losing team. That saying holds true in business, too. If your company is going downhill fast, who cares about short-term profits? Success only comes when you play as a team. The key is to end internal competition and get everybody aligned with your company’s mission and vision. If people on a team just can’t seem to get past the “I” mentality, it’s time to create a mindset shift in your organization.

Create a team philosophy.
To create a mindset shift, you have to embrace a team philosophy that if everyone pulls together, everyone will get what they want. Realize that your value is directly related to your company’s success. If you want to advance in your industry, show your commitment by making sure those around you advance. Additionally, it helps if you reinforce this ideology on a daily basis by communicating the team philosophy regularly and explaining how adopting corporate goals and values will help everyone.

Equally as important is to make the communication real. Employees want to help you succeed, but they often lose the personal connection in the midst of too much bureaucracy. Since this is a behavior and mindset shift, it will take time to change things. It’s a lot like turning a battleship— slow and steady progress gets you to your goal.

Instill a sense of camaraderie and team spirit.
You can’t have a true team if everyone always stays to themselves and only interacts during weekly meetings. In order to consistently reinforce a sense of “team,” everyone needs to come together for some group time. Whether you take everyone out to dinner once a month, engage in a team building retreat or start a company softball team, it’s imperative that you reinforce the team concept. You may hit some initial resistance to this idea, but keep pushing. Team spirit doesn’t just happen— you must nurture it.

Get team members to commit to others, consciously and verbally.
Once your group feels good about each member of the team, the next step is to ask for a greater commitment. When everyone is connected, there will be an opportunity to take the conversation to the next level. I suggest getting everyone together to discuss what the next level in business would look like and how to get there. Discuss what the individual benefit would be if the team succeeds, and keep in mind that not everyone is focused on money or career advancement. For many, gaining a greater sense of job satisfaction may be the missing link. Once there is consensus on the goals and benefits of operating as a team, ask for their commitment in writing. This will give you something to refer back to when there are breakdowns.

Remove obstacles to create success.
While a little external competition with outside companies is healthy, internal competition among team members and departments is a sure path to challenges and setbacks. If you want your company to succeed now and in the future, end the internal competition once and for all. Foster a sense of team commitment that goes beyond a promise to “hit the numbers.” When you get people committed to one another, you pave the way for future profits and create a company culture that breeds success.

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