Too often I hear about companies pitting one department or one work shift against another. The intention is good: A little competition brings out the drive to do better than someone else, thus boosting productivity.
But the results of inner-company competition are usually detrimental, creating an 'us versus them' mentality within the organization. Such divisions only serve to weaken a company over time.
A good example of inner-company competition is in manufacturing. If production units are the measure of which shift is doing better, it doesn’t take long for one shift to start leaving non-production work for the next shift to accomplish. You know, the work is necessary, but it doesn’t lead to higher production numbers. So if shift number one can 'conveniently' leave such work lying around for shift two to do, shift one keeps high production numbers while shift two spends precious time mopping up after shift one.
This kind of power playing also takes place in white-collar ranks. One company I worked with during the 1990’s high tech boom had super-talented people applying all the time. Human Resources, not being 'in the know' about all the detail-specific technical skills, would sometimes send an applicant to the wrong department for interviews. As the interviews progressed, certain interviewers realized their applicant would be better suited for another department, but they would not refer the applicant. Their reasoning? If the other department got too many great employees, it would make the interviewer’s department look bad. They could find work for the applicant to do, and prevent the other department from getting a shining star.
How selfish, and how shortsighted!
The dangers of such mindsets are dangerous. Think about it this way: If you build a house on a solid foundation, chances are your house will stand a long time. But if your foundation is fractured into separate sections, it won’t be long before doorframes start warping and walls start cracking. Its value won’t hold up, and eventually it will have to endure major repair or be demolished.
The analogy holds true for any organization, and a prevailing attitude of what’s best for the company brings the best long-term results. After all, unity brings strength. We have to remember that the other company is the competition, not the other plant, the other department, or the other shift.
For those whose companies run shift work, it’s better to build rewards around a ‘whole team’ approach, and reward for a 24-hour period, or maybe even by the week. Set goals for what the entire plant should be to accomplish in those times.
NOTE: I personally don’t like 24-hour goal-periods, because some days everything goes wrong for one shift, and then morale gets blown out of the water for everyone. It can then be easy to lapse back into an 'us versus them' mindset. But with five- or seven-day periods, teams can 'catch up' if things go awry for a day.
For companies experiencing other forms of inter-departmental rivalry, I strongly recommend cross training. Having people from one department work in other departments for a short time helps foster understanding and appreciation for the big picture. Sure, there’s a minor loss of productivity in the short term, but the longer-term payoff more than compensates.
A lot more scenarios could be discussed – more than space permits (email me if you want to talk about your specific situation). But bottom line, the other department or the other shift is not your competition. Proclaim it loud and clear through your organization: Your competition is the company whose products and services are challenging yours on the open market. So get the players on your team to play like they’re all on the same team, then stand by and watch the results.