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Competitive vs collaborative team behavior: why you need both

Competition and collaboration—they’re two terms that are often treated as mutually exclusive in relation to workplace culture. But is this actually the case? 

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A team collaborates on a project around a conference table.

Stimulating your team to encourage their best work can be tough. Each team member will have different skills and motivations, meaning there is rarely a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

In many cases, team performance and productivity come down to workplace culture. In the past, performance indicators for industries such as advertising were driven by competition—you had to be fast, aggressive, and constantly striving for more.

But this is starting to change. As new technologies emerge that present more streamlined and innovative ways of working, many companies are realizing they can’t inspire their employees through a competitive spirit alone. 

This makes it more important than ever to recognize the power of teamwork and collaboration—working together and sharing values to bring out the best in everyone in your team. In fact, research by McKinsey indicates that improving communication and collaboration can increase productivity by 20-25%.

The bottom line is that, in today’s fast-paced climate, you need both competition and collaboration in the workplace—not one or the other. But before we dive into why your team needs both, and how you can implement them, let’s explain some common traits of competitive and collaborative team behaviors.

What is “competitive” team behavior?

We see examples of competition around us every day—whether it’s in sports, among siblings, or in the workplace when there’s an opportunity for a promotion.

Competitiveness is as much about your attitude as it is about your behavior. Certain personality types are more inclined to competition than others. But the actions you take to compete for resources or success at work won’t just be a result of your personal characteristics—they may also be influenced by your team.

Competitive team behaviors are dynamic. They are variable, changeable, and—perhaps most importantly—can be cultivated.

Competitiveness doesn’t have to be the dog-eat-dog mindset we may associate with some career paths such as sales and marketing. Instead, it can be nurtured and encouraged so that every team member is driven to achieve their goals, no matter their competitive attitude.

Encourage your team to see competition as a way of taking risks and contributing to the success of the company as a whole. Pitch more out-of-the-box projects, using Dropbox Capture to share your ideas. Create a Slack channel to celebrate team achievements and boost motivation.

Advantages and disadvantages of competition



Competition can be a key motivator to achieving results and goals.

Competition can elicit fear, stress, and anxiety when implemented unfairly or easily manipulated.

In the face of problems that need to be solved, competition can encourage innovation, efficiency, and creativity. 


This could be related to an overly complicated workflow, an untapped product market, or another common workplace problem.

There is the potential for competition to be exploited or bring about elicit behavior.

Competition can support self-improvement. 


For example, it can encourage team members to focus on being better than yesterday, last month, quarter, or year. 


This is much more likely to help each individual improve than if they are focused on being better than other people on their team.

A focus on gaining quick results may compromise quality and productivity.

Competition presents an important opportunity to observe and learn from peers. Not just their success stories either—how they overcame obstacles or setbacks is key.

Team members may come to resent competitiveness if it becomes too challenging or takes over other work priorities.

Competitive behavior is all about balance—if team members are being pitted against one another to meet quotas or reach sales targets, it’s time to take a step back and rethink your approach.

When competition is about one-upmanship only, and not improvement or innovation, this can be detrimental to productivity and teamwork. To avoid team members feeling isolated because of a competitive work climate, it’s important to put individual desires aside. 

Think: how can we reposition our competitiveness so it becomes mutually beneficial?

Instead of competing with your peers—who will have unique strengths and skills that benefit the wider team—implement competitiveness through key performance indicators (KPIs) or a similar framework for your goals. These metrics could be something small such as your content output per month, or a larger goal like client acquisition and retention.

When your competitive behavior focuses on success through continual improvement, there are no losers—only winners.

Colleagues working together around a desk in an office.

What is “collaborative” team behavior?

In many ways, it may seem like collaboration is the exact opposite of competition. Collaborative behavior involves a number of actions that are often missing in purely competitive environments. These include:

  • Working with rather than against others
  • Sharing knowledge and resources through frequent and effective communication
  • A collective and unified effort to achieve project goals—and overcome obstacles that may emerge along the way
  • Actively encouraging every member of the team to contribute to projects, including stepping in to help complete tasks they weren’t originally assigned to

Effective collaboration in a team often means putting your ego aside. Instead of hoarding potentially fruitful information for your personal advantage, you would relay it to your team so it benefits them as well.

Advantages and disadvantages of collaboration



Collaboration can help to build strong relationships and a sense of camaraderie within your team.

Collaboration may lead to clashes within the team if team members have different methods and styles of working. 


This may be more likely to happen if multiple people want to be the lead on a project.

Collaboration can improve the division of work when roles are clearly defined.

A collaborative climate may be exploited.


Some team members may be unwilling or refuse to put in the expected level of effort, knowing their peers will make up for their laziness.

The quality of the work is improved when each team member’s input is encouraged to be more creative and aligned with their individual strengths.


Compared to competitive behaviors, collaboration allows for a more transparent exchange of ideas and practical, on-the-job training.


Collaboration encourages more personal accountability. 


The success of the team and your projects relies on every team member pulling their weight.


Say you’re a content creator and your team produces a range of media, from articles and white papers to videos and webinars. Your talents lie with writing and language, and less so in the visual side of things.

In a collaborative environment, your colleagues will probably turn to you to help with finalizing copy or tweaking the tone of voice—and trust that your insights will make the work better. This might be asking for your input by assigning tasks to you or requesting frame-accurate feedback on video projects.

Collaborating with your colleagues in this way is much easier when you have a centralized platform. It helps keep everyone in the loop, improves workflows, and ensures every team member can contribute to projects.

Two colleagues work together at a table with laptop.

Why your team needs competition AND collaboration

The secret to high-performing teams is that they cultivate a work environment that fosters a culture of collaboration. But it doesn't stop there—as we’ve seen, competition is still valuable, especially when it serves as the fuel for reaching a common goal such as problem-solving.

At the individual level, it can be good to “compete” with yourself. Ask: how can I be better than yesterday, or what resources are available to help me improve? The answer to this may lie within your team.

Bouncing ideas off your colleagues or reaching out for help could have a variety of benefits beyond team building. It could identify opportunities for upselling or entirely new sales, improve communication with your clients, and generate more creative marketing ideas that give your company the edge against external competitors.

Collaboration is about helping each team member be the best version of themselves. When you work together to manage projects effectively and support one another, this removes some of the fear of disappointing your colleagues you may feel. If you’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome, you’ll know how important this can be!

Let’s look at the bigger picture. Implementing collaborative team behavior can help you and your colleagues achieve better work-life balance. How? By stripping away the pressure to work in silos, setting clear goals and priorities, and making sure everyone is on the same page.

In turn, this gives you the space to explore competitive opportunities that can help you, your team, and your company develop.

Two colleagues collaborate on a video project in Dropbox Replay.

Harness the power of competition and collaboration

With the Dropbox suite of products and features, you can easily collaborate, edit, and share content with team members. All while also creating a centralized space for some healthy competition.

Assign tasks in Dropbox Paper. Collaborate on video projects in Dropbox Replay. Share insights with Dropbox Capture…and so much more. Dropbox is designed to help you engage with your team members and keep each other motivated to achieve your shared goals.