[Originally published 12/7/2016; this article has been updated 4/8/2020] 

Strong collaboration among colleagues is a hallmark of highly effective teams, but that doesn’t mean that competition should be prohibited. When used correctly, friendly contests can improve employee engagement and increase team members’ overall productivity. Team-based competition is more difficult in a virtual team environment, but technology today offers new methods for keeping remote workers connected.

Creating Competition that Boosts Motivation

Sales professionals tend to be competitive by nature, and most enjoy an opportunity to see how they compare to peers. They crave constant updates on their own achievement against sales goals, and competition with co-workers happens without management intervention. In these situations, digital leaderboards and on-screen updates make it possible to keep motivation levels high.

Leaders have a chance to direct friendly competition into specific goals when necessary — for example, to encourage the sale of a particular product that is otherwise lagging. In these situations, managers can quickly improve product sales and create long-term habits by focusing team members’ attention on the desired outcome.

Unfortunately, friendly competition can quickly turn sour without careful attention to common pitfalls. First, contests must be fresh to create true engagement. If you choose to offer a special reward, such as time off or additional pay, create a contest with a beginning and an end, rather than an on-going weekly competition.

Second, focus on creating an environment that offers intrinsic rewards for doing well. Support team members as they gain self-confidence by beating their own performance records, rather than exclusively highlighting performance differences between colleagues. This is an opportunity to encourage co-workers to create deeper relationships by applauding each other when a particular goal is accomplished.

Create legitimate competition with appropriate recognition for those that go above and beyond. Team members will rapidly lose interest if every minor accomplishment is met with excessive applause, and a “trophies for everyone” mentality tends to reduce motivation to excel. For the best results, build practical quotas and targets to hit.

Pitfalls in Competitive Environments

Friendly competition occurs when all team members have a legitimate chance of winning. When co-workers have varying levels of skill, competitions tend to discourage low performers. After all, no one enjoys a highly visible appearance on the bottom of the leaderboard day after day.

In these situations, there are several options. New colleagues still learning the ropes could compete with each other, be exempt from contests or have reduced goals to keep the contest fun. Managers should consider grouping individuals by skill level to compete against each other, or create combined teams of veterans and newbies to balance out the scales. 

Make sure that as a manager, you are communicating regularly with all participants of the contest, and gauging their thoughts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to add in personal goals for competitors to keep them going. 

New Tools for the Digital Age

Virtual engagement tools make it possible to stay connected across the country or around the world. Hoopla can easily be accessed and watched  on mobile devices or PCs, with handy functions to skip or pause, so that you can focus on the important stuff. For any staff members still on site, Hoopla on TVs can broadcast important messages or key information instantly around the company.

Hoopla even syncs with Slack to keep the information flow  going, whether in Slack or Hoopla. Using digital programming, management staff can share motivational quotes and video clips with the entire team, along with business updates and department-related news. Staff can watch their progress in real time, making it possible to participate in team-based contests and competitions.

Leveraging these new tools sales teams can continue to communicate by relaying important info in real time anywhere. Virtual teams don’t mean the end of friendly competition between co-workers. Real-time updates from advanced digital tools keep remote workers engaged with each other and with their work, increasing overall productivity. Don’t fear the new remote paradigm, embrace new ways to connect and compete.