CEB Blogs


Human Resources

Fostering Competition and Cooperation Among Employees: A Performance Paradox

Competition Paradox Cover PictureIn the new work environment, employees need to combine individual task performance with “network performance”—working with and through others—to succeed as enterprise contributors.

Enterprise contributors are those individuals that make a contribution to the larger enterprise beyond what’s required of them in their role. Research tells us employees want to be enterprise contributors, so it’s surprising to find that there aren’t more of them.

HR departments and senior leaders looking for breakthrough employee performance must unravel four performance paradoxes (see the earlier post on the topic), which are challenges where there are two seemingly opposing outcomes that both seem desirable and important to a high-performing workforce.

This post looks at the first of these in more detail. The competition paradox outlines the need to balance individual performance with cooperation.

On the One Hand…

All the ways in which employees experience performance management—the goals they are set, the assessments of how they achieve them, performance ratings, and feedback conversations—seem to prioritize individual task performance over network performance.  In fact, two-thirds of employees feel competitive toward their peers.

…And on the Other Hand

Organizations are trying to repair the shortcomings of their performance management systems by introducing expectations for network performance and enterprise contribution on top of existing individual performance objectives and standards.  That sums up the paradox; managers need both types of performance.

The Results

Shared MBOs and teamwork or collaboration values may establish an awareness of network performance expectations, but employees still devalue cooperation.  Only 18% believe that they would be promoted for demonstrating network performance, and only 41% know where they could effectively contribute to peers.

As one HR executive told us: “Leaders understand that through cooperation we get our best outcomes, but the more they are under pressure to perform, the more they are forced to act as individuals.”

How to Manage the Challenge

While puzzling, this challenge is worth taking on. An organizational environment that combines high competition with high cooperation can increase the percentage of enterprise contributors by 28%.

What to Do

HR teams should look to move the aims of their firm’s performance management process beyond it just holding employees accountable to high-level collaboration objectives and competencies , and towards showing employees how and why they should be enterprise contributors.

Show employees that enterprise contributors win, and they can do well individually and achieve network performance goals.



CEB can help HR managers and their teams:

  • Enable employees to recognize the effect of collaboration during the performance review process
  • Build awareness of peer contributions to individual success
  • Encourage high-quality network performance to generate valuable collaboration
  • Use storytelling to reinforce the connection between cooperation and performance 
  • Select key performance indciators to measure organizational, not individual collaboration

Learn more and download a complimentary whitepaper at

Leave a Reply



Recommended For You

HR Functional Effectiveness: Four New Approaches to Maturity Models

Due to high-profit growth expectations and continued cost pressures, most organizations are coming to the...