We are all supposed to be team players, aren’t we? This is a question that comes in almost every job interview and a lot of times an essential criterion in job advertisements. But does this stand the test against really what happens?

Well, in some cultures it will, in others, although they usually present themselves like that, it won’t.

Where cultures are on this continuum will depend on how they view reaching goals and achieving results.

For sure we all have a competitive aspect to us. We would not have so many competitive sports, lotteries, games and so on otherwise.

In some cultures, this aspect will be the dominant one in our interactions with people. When we negotiate, there has to be a winner and a loser. People in competitive cultures have more difficulty understanding about win-win situations. Rewards are to individuals, they are usually not team-based. If they are team-based, it will be usually a team against other teams. People in more competitive cultures work to targets, appraisal reviews, performance and so on. Blame is also more directed to individuals.

Do I make it sound rather negative? Well, such behaviours can and will have negative consequences: sense of failure, loss of self-confidence for instance in “losers”, inflated egos and arrogance for instance in “winners”. It can also decrease productivity and creativity in teams.

On the other side, competition may lead people to individually achieve more than what they thought they could do.

In contrast, some cultures will be more collaborative. People will work together to achieve goals. Rewards are at team level; no single individual is ever singled-out, for recognition or blame for that matter. Collaboration can improve productivity and innovation. It can also lead to more fruitful negotiations for all parties involved. Collaborative cultures will work towards group well-being, harmony and nurturing people (all of them, not just the winners) more.

Sounds positive? Yes it can be but being collaborative also have some drawbacks. Collaboration increases social pressure. It can also lead to overload and burn out if not careful. When decisions and things are done and taken in groups, it means that people will have lots of meetings, many emails and other communication going back and forth.

So again, it is not one side is better than the other (a competitive approach isn’t it when you think so?) and both have advantages and drawbacks. And as every time you are on a different place on the continuum than the culture you are currently in, you will more strongly feel the disadvantages.

When you are suddenly part of a team with different rules, you will need to adapt to that. If you have a strong competitive streak, you will need to learn not to take the lack of individual recognition as a failure on your part. If you are very collaborative and go to a more competitive culture, you will need to be able to accept some personal recognition for instance. Yes it is hard, as like a lot when it comes to culture, it is something that you been prepared for from a very early age. Changing usually involves confronting your values and assumptions to make being in a different culture successful.

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