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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Collaborate & compete: Two sides of same coin

Challenges make your spirit stronger and adversity may not always necessarily be a bad thing. There is competition from within and without and how one copes with it is the key to becoming a better team player or better at what one is doing. Former cricketer, Javagal Srinath and Deputy Chairman & CEO, Zensar, Ganesh Natarajan speak to CNBC-TV18 on what collaboration can do for a game and help in your career.

Javagal Srinath philosophises, "This competition comes from a very early age. Right from the childhood days, be it sporting, be it academic, be it cultural activity. I think there is a competitive environment. Now when you talk about a team event, you don't get many opportunities at that level. If you are playing in cricket or any other sports team, then probably you have a good inclination about what competition within the team is all about. But at the end, it is really difficult to understand what is the competition at the school level, at the academic level and how do you translate that into the team zone. Now there is a bit of confusion over there, I would say, and of course, competition is something which we have lived with throughout our life."

He adds, "How we see this competition is important because we are always driven by cliché terminologies, like 'do or die' and being very aggressive or being ruthless to compete for a place. Now that has to really translate (into performance) against opponents.

Sometimes, in an organisation, competition helps to keep each other afloat. Ganesh Natarajan says, "I think, we manage because if you have a very complacent team of people, who are all very nice guys and willing to collaborate, you are not going to succeed. But at the same time, if everybody is cutting each other's throat, again, you are not going to succeed. So I think, finding the right balance between competition and collaboration is what a success story is all about." The consensus though, is on learning to collaborate with friends but also learning to compete with ourselves and that's where you really grow as a successful person.

However, Natarajan does speak up for individuality, where "it's important to ensure that people are competitive because without being competitive nothing really happens in the industry or in any company. But I think what you can foster is the perception that there is no alternative. It's like an orchestra, you may be the best violin player in the world but you can't also play the trumpet and the drums. So you have to collaborate with the people who are specialists in that area."

Collaboration can start as a form of mentoring. Srinath elaborates, "The collaboration has to start from the seniors. When a player walks into the team, I think he is trying to make a mark for himself. He wants to have a standing, he is competing amongst his own peers, he really wants to make an impression. So during that period, I think the collaboration aspect really doesn't cross his mind and he has to graduate quickly. Then there is the second level, when he is secure and he knows what he can do and what he cannot do and at that stage, he will take the opponents on."

"Until then, he is sort of re-establishing himself in the side. The day he starts thinking about the opponents, that automatically leads to collaboration among his own team members and then probably, he will be graduated to the next level, where he starts competing with himself - like he will better his records, he wants to become a much improved player, he wants to change his technique for the betterment of the team and he makes some sacrifices. So, all these things are at the third level. So competition transforms into a different meaning, as you are progressing in your career."

Natarajan explains the corporate way of breaking in a new intern. He says, "I think the corporate sector has now institutionalised methods for doing that. For example, mentoring programmes, in our organisation, where every senior member has to mentor at least 30-40 youngsters and there are also control loops built in. So you have this 360 degree feedback. Your subordinates are all the time asking, are you coaching me? Are you helping me? And I am a strong believer that leaders are basically coaches. I think every senior has to be able to mentor and build a new generation of leaders otherwise the organisation is in trouble."

Competing for the same spoils also is a learning experience. Natarajan agrees, "Absolutely, and there is no choice because you have to learn the best practices. You have to benchmark against the best, otherwise you are sitting in a vacuum and the world will pass you by. I think there is also a problem of, a lot of Indian students and Indian professionals come from a background of adversity. They have struggled for everything that they have achieved. So in a sense we find that when people first start their career, there is this tendency to be very competitive in a negative sense but I think in good organisations, as well as people with good education, learn to collaborate very fast and then the team spirit really comes up."

A leader will lay down the ground rules and bring people around to listening to his point of view eventually. But there are cases of egocentric leaderships, where people do not always want to collaborate.

Natarajan adds, "I think the role of a leader is to mentor people. I think bringing out the benefits of collaboration by example, because even leaders sometimes themselves don't, (show by example). They preach collaboration but they don't practice it. So I think the role of the captain is to collaborate himself/herself. Because only when he/she sets the example for the rest of the organisation, then the others would say 'hey even if the leader is doing it, maybe I should do that'. So, I think the younger team will get motivated if seniors show the way.

He elaborates, "People always realise that there is no such thing like a one-man army and when you talk about egocentric leadership, it happens in an entrepreneurial organisation, it also happens in very early stage organisations. But as organisations grow, the need for synergy is so much, that I think egocentric leaders automatically fall by the wayside and people realise that very quickly."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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