Running the risk of your team getting ahead versus getting along

3 minute read

To manage an organisation is to manage a living thing, made up of many hard-to-predict, dynamic parts: namely, people. A big part of organisational excellence is getting teams to work well amongst themselves and with other teams. This can be a daunting, complex task.

To add to the difficulty, we humans are great at competition. Evolution has hardwired it into us. Our ancestors learned to survive by fighting for limited resources. But another crucial factor of our survival is relationships: the need to be in groups and build good, mutually satisfying connections with others.

In this blog we look at reconciling the drives to ‘get ahead’ and ‘get along’ - the key to building successful teams.


The instinct to form groups, and the evolution of group structure

Virtually from the beginning of time, we have assembled ourselves into groups. Groups were necessary for meeting our basic biological needs in a big, unwieldy world full of threats.

Throughout history, groups have assumed a natural hierarchy, with some members having higher social status than others and a ‘leader’ emerging as the ultimate authority. The leader determines how well the group functions, and whether it will meet its goals at all.

According to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief Talent Scientist at Manpower, the way a leader leads ‘determines how groups and teams function, which determines how an organisation functions’[BS1] .

In the modern organisation, a leader’s performance trickles down to the team. This in turn holds implications for the whole organisation’s success or failure.


The importance of getting along vs. getting ahead

In a stable and successful group, individuals help each other achieve great things while seeking their own success, rather than stepping on each other’s heads to get on top.

But this isn’t always the case because in groups, a natural tension exists between the human need to ‘get ahead’ and the need to ‘get along’ with others in friendly collaboration. Balancing those opposite forces is necessary for optimal group performance.

Getting along, although challenging, is a win-win proposition. It’s where the whole team works together to a collective higher status instead of individual gains.


The way to balance ‘getting ahead’ and ‘getting along’ in groups and organisations

Competition and co-operation can be balanced within teams, and an entire organisation can be strengthened as a result, with a few useful strategies and guidelines:

  1. Keep teams small. Human beings can only manage a small number of close interpersonal relationships. In the workplace, this translates to smaller teams being more effective. The ideal size is between 5 and 10 people. Given the human brain’s limits, smaller teams make for better, more sustainable working relationships.
  2. Choose diversity carefully. A mix of personalities, ages, genders, skills and other characteristics can influence a whole team either in positive or negative ways. By aligning the right mix of people with the team’s purpose, leaders can limit the potential for strife and increase the likelihood of everyone working well together.
  3. Mood makes a difference. The ‘ripple effect’ of a leader’s mood will affect the team members whether they know it or not. And negative moods are especially powerful. Negative leadership leads to more stress, difficulties in everyday work, and bad moods within the team. However, a positive leadership only improves performance and the cohesiveness of the group.
  4. There is no team without trust. Assembling ‘the best and the brightest’ doesn’t guarantee team success. Trust is much more important, because it lets team members know their roles are valued and makes them feel free to share ideas. Lack of trust leads to more stress, fear, and confusion, while more trust injects happiness, confidence, better work relationships, and an attitude of ‘getting along’ to meet goals.

With these approaches, a team culture is created where members are fully engaged, motivated to help each other, and ready to succeed.

Combine a spirit of ‘getting along’ with ambition and strong leadership, and teams and whole organisations will find themselves better positioned for great things.

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