Competitive or Collaborative?

In my new book Loving Work, we talk about whether one likes to be in a competitive or a collaborative environment in the workplace. I was reminded by a friend yesterday about a story someone who was working on a building project at some point and a prominent person came to him and offered him some assistance with fund raising for the project.

That request was turned down. The person in question didn’t want anyone else’s help. They wanted to do the project on their own.

I can understand the sentiment and perhaps they were threatened that the donor would want too much credit for building the property or want it named after him or perhaps others would say “Steve (not his real name) couldn’t have done it without those dollars from so and so.”

But couldn’t we all use a bit of help and aren’t we all called to help one another?

Jim McDermott, SJ once noticed that I had a similar attitude and he remarked, “Mike, it would be a shame if you had to do it all, because you can’t do it all! So perhaps God is calling you to be a bit more humble and admit that you need the help of others sometimes.”

True enough. Blasted spiritual directors saying things that make sense!

And I truly value collaboration and take care to make sure each individual working on a project gets some credit for the work they put into the collaboration. Mike Breen, now of ESPN, but formerly of WFAN taught me much about this. I used to work with him on the station’s Imus in the Morning show as a desk assistant and whenever I did anything well, he’d be sure to point that out to Imus or to one of the higher ups. I try to model that behavior in my own work.

At times though, others don’t have the same attitude. There are some who take way too much credit for a project that they really didn’t contribute much to. Or take credit for an initial idea that didn’t really come them.

True collaboration comes from not worrying about who gets the credit but instead focuses on the work itself and allows the team to name one another’s roles in the entire project so that they can appreciate the diverse gifts of the entire crew.

Some people have a hard time with that, wanting to horde attention or hold onto the feelings of grandeur that they have about their accomplishments. They sometimes might also be the first to cast blame towards others as well.

And then there’s those who tear down others to build themselves up. A major league baseball player once told me off the record that they didn’t like one of their teammates. The hated player would say things like “Today I’m going to get more hits than anybody!” But he really would ben wishing everyone else to go 0 for 4.

Ministry can only afford to be competitive when we’re competing for the hearts of good people over evil choices and often we choose competing with one another. That must change. We are often our worst enemy and that ends up getting in the way of great progress.