Real Leaders

Collaboration vs. Competition: What Drives High-Performance Companies?

We’ve been taught to compete in business and life since we were young. But could a collaborative approach yield better results?

I attended a public school in Southern Rhode Island through 6th grade. We were taught that there was only one answer and only one way to solve a problem. We were told the answers lay in the back of our books, but we weren’t allowed to look or copy from others — that was cheating. Our desks were in tight rows, a few feet apart, yet we had to keep our eyes strictly on our papers only.

In 7th grade, I transitioned to a new school that was more liberal, an extension of Brown University. There, I experienced the opposite — we worked collectively in pods. By putting our heads together, we attacked challenges with greater intellectual firepower. Diversity of thought yielded more perspectives and helped eliminate critical blind spots. It unearthed different solutions and ultimately produced a better outcome and learning experience. We were collaborating.

Now, as the CEO of a major international real estate company, I see how invaluable that experience was. I consider it an important business lesson, on par with academic math and science. Collaboration in business can certainly give you a competitive advantage.

As New York Times bestselling author Sir Ken Robinson said, “Collaboration is the ‘stuff’ of growth.” We implicitly understand the creative benefits associated with collaboration. Partnering and collaborating are often discussed in separate contexts, but they can create a catalyzing effect of unequaled proportion when coupled together in a business strategy. Millennials demand and expect sharing, peering, and collaborating in today’s socially engaged world. In addition, utilizing the power of incentives to drive competition and better results has been adopted by almost every sector on the planet. “None of us is as smart as all of us,” American motivational speaker Ken Blanchard is fond of saying. It drives better business outcomes for clients, and in a non-collaborative environment, operating with a strong collaborative point of differentiation provides a competitive sales advantage. In my world, the commercial real estate market, there’s a move toward redefining what it means to be a commercial real estate advisor. Brokers and brokerage firms can no longer survive alone by being a middleman. They must evolve. They must pull the future forward. The broker of tomorrow is not a salesman for a manufacturer but an advisor for the client.

There is more value in collaboration than competition. Growth and development will follow when unique perspectives, philosophical differences, and dissenting views are seen as opportunities instead of setbacks. Positional gaps are closed by listening to all sides, finding common ground, and letting the principle of doing the right thing guide the process. 

Competition is not inherently bad, but competition that holds us back from achieving our greatest potential by being inherently divisive is bad. The latter is the stuff of a zero-sum game and is prevalent in commercial real estate brokerage. There can only be one winner. 

Collaboration, on the other hand, is about progressing as a whole. There’s no winner unless the entire group crosses the finish line together. Business models that embrace collaboration and cooperation are uniquely positioned to take market share in this era of change as client behaviors and expectations evolve.  The collaborative mindset and exponential growth concept is an idea shared by many in my Real Leaders Collaborative group too. There are seven of us, all value-aligned business leaders, who meet each month via Zoom. In this confidential environment, each member draws from the experience and relationships of their peers to power their exponential growth strategies. It’s collaboration on steroids.

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If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of coming together in times of crisis. Since March 2020, leaders have been asking themselves: What can we do in times like these? The answer, I believe, is to come together and share our collective struggles so that we can begin to move forward, stronger, together.  In a way, the pandemic forced us all to collaborate in new and inventive ways. Many of us had no choice but to evolve, find new ways of communicating and work together instead of apart. History has shown us that during a crisis, people often come together. The last two years serve as a poignant reminder that challenging times have a way of driving humanity forward — of placing trust, cooperation, and collective strength ahead of competition and conflict.

If we as leaders are to lead the world toward a more prosperous future, we must work together and with each other — including our clients, our colleagues, and our communities — toward a shared future.

Kevin Maggiacomo is a member of the Real Leaders Collaborative, a peer-to-peer group model designed to provide time-starved, purpose-driven CEOs with a high level of support from peers. Real-Leaders.com/Become-a-Member

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