As humans, comparing is inherent, beginning around the age of four or five when self-awareness and social interactions expand. This tendency persists throughout our lives; we just can't seem to shake it!

While it's an inevitable part of the human experience, the crucial question is: Are you conscious of it and, more importantly, of the consequences? For professionals, this awareness is essential, and ignoring it may prove costly. This might be surprising, considering the conventional belief that a highly competitive culture drives results.

Are you prepared to understand why and learn measures to mitigate the repercussions of unhealthy comparisons?

Comparing up and down

When someone else excels in an area we value, it’s not uncommon to feel inadequate or even envious. Conversely, when we perceive ourselves as superior, we experience a boost in self-esteem, sometimes bordering on self-righteousness.

Yet, when making such comparisons, we often fixate on superficial markers of success rather than the genuine value and impact of our work. Context and circumstances influencing outcomes are ignored, and we assume everyone operates under the same conditions.

But what happens when we do this? Let’s explore some examples.

Workplace envy

Imagine: You’re working closely with someone, but only one of you is praised for completing a high-profile project. Your thoughts: “Why are they outshining me? Why can’t I get this kind of recognition? Maybe I'm not as competent or valuable to the team."

Consequence: You start questioning your abilities and significance within the team. This self-doubt may lead to a loss of motivation, hindering your willingness to contribute ideas or take on new challenges. The fear of inadequacy could even develop into imposter syndrome, where you feel like you don't belong or deserve your position.

Overemphasis on titles and roles

Imagine: You and a peer have similar roles, but they are promoted to a higher position. You begin obsessing over the title, associating it with personal worth, and become discontent. You think, “Another promotion! Am I not good enough? Maybe I should focus more on climbing the ladder than working as a team.”

Consequence: This heightened focus on titles and roles causes you to withdraw from collaboration. Feeling undervalued and discontent, you may become less engaged or likely to share your ideas. The fixation on hierarchy may lead to a toxic work environment as personal advancement takes precedence over teamwork and collective success.

Ignoring individual contributions

Imagine: You’re consistently delivering high-quality work, but management’s focus is on quantitative metrics, ignoring your efforts. You feel undervalued and begin to question the point of even trying. "No matter how hard I work, they only care about the numbers. Why bother going the extra mile when it's not recognized?"

Consequence: The sense of being overlooked may lead to disengagement. Frustrated and demotivated, you may start doing the bare minimum, neglecting creativity and innovation. The workplace becomes an environment where individual contributions are dismissed, stifling personal and collective growth.

Resistance to feedback

Imagine: Someone else consistently receives constructive feedback while you avoid it, fearing it might expose weaknesses. "I can't let them think I'm not good at my job. Besides, I don't need feedback; I know what I'm doing."

Consequence: By rejecting opportunities for improvement, you limit your growth by not enhancing your skills. The fear of exposing weaknesses contributes to a fixed mindset, restricting the adaptability needed for continuous improvement.

Arrogance towards a colleague's contributions

Imagine: You consistently outperform a colleague in a specific area, leading you to develop a sense of superiority. You think, “My way is so much better. Why should I bother considering their input?"

Consequence: People stop contributing ideas, limiting innovation and the progress of the team as a whole.

Withholding knowledge from a peer

Imagine: You possess specialized knowledge that a peer lacks, creating a power dynamic. You think, "If they knew what I know, they might outshine me. I'll keep this to myself to stay ahead."

Consequence: You prevent your peer from growing professionally. The lack of knowledge-sharing becomes the norm, inhibiting the growth and development of the wider team.

Complacency and denial of mistakes

Imagine: You are consistently ahead of someone in project delivery. You think, "They can't keep up with the pace. What's the point in offering advice and pointers?"

Consequence: Apathy, leading to low morale, decreased collaboration and productivity, increased conflict, and a negative impact on overall team culture and the quality of work.

Closed-mindedness and resentment towards a team member

Imagine: You feel that a team member is not as experienced when really it’s a difference in perspective. You think, "They may have some experience, but it doesn't compare to mine. I don't need their advice."

Consequence: Closed-mindedness and a dismissal of the team member's input. Resentment grows and impedes effective collaboration, preventing the team from benefiting from diverse ideas and viewpoints.

How does all of the above sound for your organization?

When issues like these occur amongst team members, entire departments and organizations experience the negative consequences.

How to build a healthy environment

While it's hard to eliminate the act of comparison, feeding it can prove detrimental to you and your organization. So, what steps can you take to navigate this?

First and foremost, it's crucial to enhance your self-awareness—recognizing when these comparisons occur and understanding their impact on your mindset. Fostering self-awareness should be actively encouraged in others.

If your company culture is one that praises and rewards comparison, it risks prioritizing competitiveness over teamwork. While competition in a working environment has benefits, balancing it with collaboration and teamwork is vital to prevent the negative consequences of comparison, such as excessive stress, conflict, or demotivation among teams.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Set collaborative goals and acknowledge teams demonstrating effective collaboration in achieving these shared goals.
  • Start rewarding, highlighting, and praising team efforts instead of individuals. Create a recognition framework emphasizing collective achievements, team milestones, and successful collaboration.
  • Encourage leaders to participate. This removes hierarchy and creates an inclusive environment that helps with motivation, engagement, and overall job satisfaction. Promote mentorship programs and knowledge-sharing and recognize and reward stakeholders for actively contributing valuable insights and expertise.
  • Develop performance and growth reviews and measure this against engagement and collaboration efforts.
  • Identify opportunities for cross-departmental projects or initiatives that call for collaboration. Track and evaluate the outcomes of these projects and share success stories to encourage future teamwork.

There are many more examples, but the point is to encourage and reward collaboration and ensure that initiatives are consistent and integrated into a company's culture at all levels.

It might seem simple, but the true essence of collaboration can get lost in the maze of day-to-day operations. Metrics play a pivotal role here. If you can’t measure teamwork, knowledge-sharing, or collective achievements, these efforts risk being overlooked or undervalued.

Furthermore, embedding these practices into your company’s DNA requires top-down commitment. Leaders must champion and exemplify collaborative behavior, reinforcing it through their actions and decisions. Middle management and team leaders also play a crucial role in fostering an environment where collaboration is not only encouraged but expected.

The shift in mindset from individual to collective success is essential in achieving shared business goals and creating a healthy culture. By recognizing and nurturing collective efforts, teams lose focus on hierarchy and power and concentrate more on leveraging diverse skills, making everyone feel valued and motivated.

See the results

Encouraging collaboration in organizations not only mitigates the negative impacts of comparison but also enhances profitability. A collaborative culture, as discussed in the previous chapter, actively contributes to the following:

Innovation and creativity: Diverse ideas (encouraged through recognition and reward) lead to unique products that capture new markets and increase revenue.

Employee engagement: Collaborative leadership behaviors, integrated into performance evaluations and development programs, boost commitment, raising productivity and reducing turnover.

Efficient problem-solving: Teams focused on business goals rather than individual success address challenges faster, saving time and resources.

Optimized resource utilization: Cross-functional teams share expertise, cutting costs and improving operational efficiency.

Adaptability: Collaborative organizations that incorporate feedback loops and adapt to market trends safeguard and increase profitability.

Talent attraction and retention: Mentorship programs and knowledge-sharing attract top talent, reducing recruitment and training costs.

Competitive edge: Continuous improvement through collaboration—a result of initiatives like identifying cross-departmental opportunities—positions companies as industry leaders, attracting more clients and customers.

Integrating collaborative initiatives into your culture leads to increased profitability, innovation, efficiency, adaptability, talent retention, and a sustained competitive edge.

Published: Feb 19, 2024

Software developmentAgileApplication management