How to Handle Peer Competitors
When it comes to not only surviving but actually thriving within any organization, it turns out that we can draw valuable lessons from nature.
In 1855, in his paper on the laws of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote:
“Every species has come into existence coincident in both space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.”
Wallace’s observation was based on extensive observations undertaken in many parts of the world. For any species to exist, it has had to establish a set of behaviors, skills, and knowledge that enable it to meet the challenges presented by the laws of evolution within a specific environment. Only the fittest survive and they do so by evolving suitable behaviors based on appropriate skills and knowledge. The fact that every new species comes into existence in proximity to other closely allied species, provides two significant team building issues related to ongoing employee learning and development:
- The power of learning from others who have successfully managed to overcome challenges similar to those employees face, and
- The importance of creating new skills and knowledge that make us capable of surviving challenges that, although similar to those faced by others, are sufficiently different to require creative adaptation on our part.
Wallace also wrote:
“Species with small ranges concentrate in places that typically are not where the largest numbers of species live.”
What this counter intuitive insight suggests is that to be successful, every species has to conglomerate within small groups of “like-minded” species. This tells us something truly significant about the challenges nature presents to every living thing. It implies that survival is easier:
- When we collaborate with others who face similar (though not necessarily identical) challenges, and
- Are protected from competitive influences from other employees facing entirely different challenges.
In other words, to succeed in any endeavor, we need to be able to focus our efforts and evolve specialized skills and knowledge within a protected environment where we can benefit from the support of others who have already met and overcome similar challenges.
There’s a clear analogy here to the way in which organizations evolve and succeed by specializing in specific markets.
These observations also say something important regarding employees who have specialist roles within an organization. Wherever possible, such people need to work in groups and learn from each other. This reveals the importance of both “Best Practice” transfer within organizations and training by example.
Through the deployment of our Training Module, which includes an easy-to-use way of turning Best Practice knowledge into online worksheets with Q & A and automated scoring, we have established that learning from others who do things well is the most powerful way of building skills and knowledge throughout any organization. We have also discovered that the process is invaluable when it comes to identifying how not to do things.
Additionally, Wallace’s observations signal the dangers associated with managing specialists who are isolated within the organization. IT specialists and Legal Counsellors for example can become vulnerable when they work in organizations where they are the only employee with their particular specialization. Lacking a support group, such people can miss the advantage of best practice transfer. Additionally, because there are no other employees with similar skills/knowledge, their ideas and decisions can be the subject of less scrutiny and effective challenge. The employee can become less open to the ideas of others and their skills/knowledge may fail to keep up with latest thinking. Under such circumstances, outsourcing can turn out to be a better option.
There is also a close link between Wallace’s observations and my previous blog posts describing the power of feedback control in terms of the facilitation of rapid adaptation and organizational stability. All organizations are based on people and that for every employee not only to survive but actually thrive, organizations need to provide environments where each can learn and develop the skills while at the same time be held accountable for their actions.