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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

‘Win-win’ situation means nobody is loser, September 30, 2007, 2D.

After 16 years of playing racquetball, I earned my instructor’s certification in 1998.  I taught physical education classes at my schools and offered clinics to people interested in learning how to play or improve their racquetball skills.  Teaching beginners to play racquetball is a rewarding experience, but it is also frustrating.  The nature of racquetball, like many other sports, demands that players compete directly against each other.  At the end of each game, one player (or team of players) winds up winning and the other losing.  High-level racquetball players almost always win against beginning and developing players.  In fact, it takes many years of practice and experience to significantly improve one’s abilities to compete at top levels of play.  For those who have not developed those skills, continually losing to a superior player can be frustrating and demoralizing.

In recent years, I have also ventured back into the martial arts after a long break and earned an instructor’s rank.  A nice thing about teaching martial arts is that students can train, learn, and practice with others of superior skills without feeling a sense of defeat.  Students develop their abilities at their own rates and without a need to compare their abilities against those of others (those who want to can compete in tournaments).  After leaving class, all students can feel that they have excelled and improved without feeling defeated.  The abilities, confidence, and performance of everyone in the class can rise without anyone feeling like a loser or sensing that they must outperform a classmate.

Racquetball and similar sports are win-lose activities.  For one player or team to experience victory, another must experience defeat.  Even when all competitors or teams are exceptionally talented, the zero-sum natures of most athletic competitions require all but the ultimate victor to lose.  Martial arts practitioners can experience feelings of victory and accomplishment without making others feel like losers.  By training and working together in a collaborative manner, they can all encourage each other to personal success and victory.

Managers and organizational leaders should be aware of how work is viewed and rewarded by their workers.  When workers in an organization exhibit exceptional performance, creativity, effort, and initiative, it is important that other workers do not perceive a zero-sum competition for rewards and recognition.  Racquetball players try to find and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents to gain victory over them.  Likewise, threatened co-workers might feel obliged to “attack” high performers by inhibiting or setting up obstacles that keep them from performing at their maximum.  Attitudes and behaviors such as these are destructive to organizations.  When co-workers are viewed as competitors rather than collaborators, teamwork, trust, respect, open communication, and overall organizational performance can suffer.

Creating cultures and work systems that encourage workers to collaborate and work together on organizational tasks in “win-win” fashions is a healthier alternative for organizations.  From a management standpoint, reward and evaluation systems need to exist that promote such behaviors.  From a leadership perspective, cultures and climates of trust, growth, mutual support, unity, and teamwork must be developed and maintained.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved