England & Wales

Competition conflict and collectivism

The two Harvard freshmen who gave us a tour delighted in stories of competition with other universities, conflict with the neighbouring town of Cambridge, and collective action of varying kinds, including the alumni who have made Harvard the second wealthiest private institution in the world.  The wealthiest is the Catholic Church.   These themes ran through our day with Jorrit de Jong from the Kennedy School of Leadership who ran a similation exercise on the transfer of innovation from place to place.   Injecting Apprentice style dynamics, Jorrit set up two teams in competition with each other, and competition between the individuals within those teams.    We were giving specific individual objectives that if pursued would prevent the achievement of the overall objective, which is precisely what happened in one team.   The outcome was more succesful in the team I was involved in where around half way through the task a tipping point was reached and a critical mass within the group started to adapt their approach to pursue both their own, and a collective agenda.    Conversation, empathy, negotiation and some limited compromise led to a much better overall effort at achieving the collective goal.    I took lots away from the day.   As a key part of my objective in being here in Harvard is learning from the council Chiefs and Chief Constables on the course, and relationship building, the main learning was about them.  Some people clearly hated the task and some relished it.  As with the Apprentice, some were outriders for either an individual goal or a collective goal from the outset, and some adapted and changed during the task.   The overall wider learning point was about the need to effectively manage the conflict that can be present when individual and collective goals are not alligned.   On an optimistic note I was pleased that the collective goal proved a more powerful force within our team, which I was motivated to by the enjoyment of beginning to work with, not against others, to make progress in the task.  Others, including the outriders for collectivism, were motivated by competition with the other group, about which I couldn’t care less as there was no Boardroom and black taxi waiting for one of us to be fired.         An evening at Hampshire House and then to the Cheers Bar provided plenty of time for reflection, and to enjoy the atmosphere as the Boston Celtics basketball team won a dramatic match against the Chicago Bulls in overtime.