Collaboration Vs. Competition: Which is the Better Career Advancement Tool?

iStock_000017306404XSmallBy Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief

In a new working paper, “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation than Men?,” authors Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval explore the work environments in which women are most likely to thrive. According to the authors, women perform better than men in work situations that emphasize team based collaboration rather than individual competition.

They reference previous research that suggests some women typically avoid competitive work environments for two primary reasons: a simple dislike of competition and typically lower confidence in their abilities than men. Given these findings, Kuhn and Villeval take a look at how collaborative team environments affect women’s performance as well as their self-assessment of their own abilities.

The Experiment

Kuhn and Villeval build on research conducted by Niederle and Vesterlund in 2007 in which a worker could choose between receiving individual pay based on their own performance and a situation where their reward depends negatively on the performance of their team. What is interesting about Kuhn and Villeval’s study is that it is the first experiment of its kind to present subjects with two simple options. That is working in a situation where the subject’s reward is based solely on their own performance and a situation where the subject’s reward is based on the performance of their team.

The authors explain, “Our objective is to understand gender differences in selection into work environments where incentives for cooperation versus competition can be implicit features of the employment contract, or are deeply ingrained in corporate cultures.”

By shedding light on the reasons why women might be more attracted to collaboration, and as a result be productive and effective team members, the authors offer insight into how changes in corporate culture and HR policy can increase a female friendly corporate environment and culture.

Does fostering a collaborative environment really make the workplace more female-friendly? Furthermore, is it accurate to say that women display more confidence in their abilities when working as a team member?

Collaboration and Performance

Generally speaking, women do find collaboration to be a very effective trait at work. This is what we found when we surveyed almost 300 women in technology for our latest research study, “Women in Technology: Leaders of Tomorrow.” The research states, “The number one trait women identified as critical for leadership was ‘Collaborative,’ which was also the number one trait respondents selected to describe themselves.” This indicates that women link collaboration with effectiveness and performance.

Our research suggests that it is not only important for women to feel a strong sense of collaboration among their peers, but also among their leaders. If you work in an environment that is very supportive of teamwork and group effort, and you are someone who has observed your own performance level increase as a result of working in a team, you can try to align yourself with those colleagues who share these same values as a career strategy. Collaboration can be a very effective career advancement tool as long as you recognize when to use it to your advantage and when to promote your independent contributions as well.

Career advancement, however, is very much about competition, which is why you need to make sure your accomplishments are visible and attributable to you in a teamwork environment. Learning this and applying it will be one of the most effective things you can do to advocate for yourself and continue to grow in confidence.

While your performance may increase as a result of collaboration, you still want to make sure that your individual efforts are recognized and rewarded in the end. You are, after all, focused on your own advancement, not anyone else’s

Collaboration versus Competition

Through their experiment, Kuhn and Villeval hope to gain insight into the potential gender differences around collaboration and competition. Furthermore, they intend to prove that underlying beliefs and preferences present in each gender account for whether or not collaboration is selected over competition.

In the controlled environment of researchers’ experiment, they observed that women are more inclined to choose a situation where their reward is based on the team’s performance rather than their sole performance. However, this may not reflect women’s choices in a real work environment.

1 Response

  1. Geraldine Gallacher

    We are an all-female team of partners running a coaching company and our male financial advisors are baffled by our approach to remuneration and reward. We choose not to display or focus on our individual billings but instead concentrate on our joint contribution as this encourages us to be more long term in our actions. Our male advisors find it hard to believe that competing against each other is a turn- off for us and I think some of them think it points to a lack of commercial nous. To my mind a collaborative approach is more sustainable and therefore ultimately more commercial. That said, I think you need both perspectives when it comes to running a business.