The Collaboration Vs. Competition Dilemma Among Business Executives Executives' emerging ideas are self-stimulating and often "fall between two stools": should such ideas be shared with colleagues in the interest of better progress or should they be kept secret to enhance personal glory?

By Mohammed Nosseir

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Differentiating between what business executives should share and what they need to keep to themselves constitutes a real business dilemma! Companies often encourage their executives to place a high value on the positive impact of collaborative action while at the same time allowing them to compete against one another, thereby enhancing their natural motivation to build up their self-esteem. Ideas and knowledge are the business community's victims; sometimes they are kept concealed in the minds of executives, at other times, they are comprehensively –and fruitlessly– discussed.

The purpose of an organization is to prompt large numbers of executives and employees (with diversified experiences and of different standing) to work together to produce competitive products and / or provide exceptional services. Nevertheless, companies have realized over time that some degree of internal competition is helpful; it motivates employees to outperform their colleagues and thus satisfy their individual self-esteem. In any given organization, having each executive in charge of making a personal decision both on when knowledge should be shared with peers and when it is best kept for personal use constitutes a real challenge.

Executives' emerging ideas are self-stimulating and often "fall between two stools": should such ideas be shared with colleagues in the interest of better progress or should they be kept secret to enhance personal glory? Some people even quit their jobs in order to implement their ideas freely. Ideally, companies want their executives to share their thoughts, inspiration and ideas within the organization. In reality however, the environment and organizational structure of most companies don't provide the necessary channels for a proper flow of ideas that is conducive to their emergence and, eventually, facilitates their implementation.

Related: Ethics In Business: Why You Shouldn't Put A Price On Your Integrity

Furthermore, Middle Eastern executives tend to be individualistically oriented, particularly in the field of business. Arabs generally prefer to run their own businesses rather than team up with others to generate better and faster results. People are often aware of the pros and cons of these two business models, yet they tend to opt for being a big fish in a small bowl over being one among many smaller fishes in a large fish tank. To satisfy this desire to conceive of themselves as big fish, business people in our part of the world often end up launching a surplus of fish bowls.

Executives will only be encouraged to think up new ideas and to share knowledge when both trust and a functioning reward system exist within their organizations. All executives need to be able to trust their peers and superiors to willingly disclose their ideas and share their knowledge. Trustworthiness is therefore the magic quality that companies need to nurture to erase executives' worries and prompt them to collaborate with their peers. In any given organization, building properly functioning, trust-based channels will enhance creativity and boost the development of valuable original ideas.

Collaborating with peers on sharing ideas and knowledge cannot be an obligation; executives and employees need to realize that they will be better off as a result of sharing! "Optionality" should be the rule– but it must be combined with granting strong incentives to executives who decide, of their own free will, to collaborate with their peers. On the other hand, providing adequate room for each executive to broaden his or her horizon should be an obligatory policy. Whether to work alone or to team up with others should always be a personal decision, one in which business maturity is the determining factor. A corporate culture that is based on trust is the answer to the collaboration vs. competition dilemma.

Related: Harnessing Corporate Culture To Make Employees Loyal To Your Brand, Not Your Money

Mohammed Nosseir

Managing Director, Global Marketing Consultancy, Middle East Region

Mohammed Nosseir is the Managing Director of Global Marketing Consultancy, Middle East Region. He specializes in consulting to clients in the consumer goods and retail industries, primarily in the areas of growth and market entry strategies, target segmentation, value proposition and market potential assessment. He has worked and managed projects for leading international and regional companies in the Middle East and Europe. He has published several articles on marketing strategies and government reforms in a number of global and regional publications. Mohammed holds a BA from Ain Shams University in Cairo and is a Stanford (CDDRL) Fellow 2008, an Eisenhower Fellow 2009, and an Aspen Seminar Fellow 2011.

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