Karin’s Leadership Articles

Employee engagement - play the game don't game the score

Collaborative Competition: The Extraordinary Power of Trash Talk

by | Apr 8, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Results & Execution |

Collaborative competition inspires. Seeing “them” inspires “us.” Competition makes work fun. Unless, it doesn’t. Stay on the right side of trash talk.  Create collaborative competition to inspire your team.

A New York State of Mind

I ran a 2000 person sales team so did the guys in New York. They were the “ones to catch” on some metrics. In others we led the way. We studied their playbook. They studied ours. We both sent “spies” to learn more. We left voice mails talking trash. My cellphone rang tunes of “New York State of Mind” and “I love New York” reminding every one of the competition.

Of course, the vision was bigger. Competition was play. We traded “players.” Benchmarking became a game. Both teams grew. The bar rose. Both teams achieved. Work was fun.

Collaborative Competition

  • inspires
  • unifies
  • finds fun
  • sparks creativity
  • improves
  • shares

Unhealthy Competition

  • hides
  • loses
  • stifles
  • diminishes
  • creates stress

Creating Collaborative Competition

“”If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.”

Leverage competition to drive collaboration. Make collaboration a competitive game.

Here’s how…

  • Align intent
  • Interact
  • cross-pollinate
  • Share playbooks
  • Mandate sportsmanship
  • Speak well
  • Talk a little trash
  • Keep a scoreboard
  • Celebrate small victories

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Matt McWilliams

    Of course it works in sales…I think that goes without saying and I’m sure everyone has stories to share there.

    But I’ve found that it works in the most unlikely places, like creative arts, customer service, and even in finance.

    Whoever designs the best performing banner gets $300. Submit by Monday at 2pm.

    Whoever has the lowest loss rate (of customers) this month gets $500.

    Whoever finds the most savings (in finance) gets $300.

    It’s amazing to watch what happens…and the trash talk is great.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Matt, Fully agree. You share an important examples. I have seen it work wonders in non sales contexts as well. Great add.

  3. Dallas Tye

    Karin, what’s an example of “We left voice mails talking trash”?

    I like what you have said, and I think I’ve got an idea of what you mean,,, but I’m having flash-backs of my 1st trip to the US many years ago when some things were ‘lost in translation’ (who would have thought).

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dallas, some folks also call this “smack.” An example…. “we just closed a gigantic deal that puts us in first place for the month… just saying… scoreboard!” “Next time you’re in town, why don’t you tag along, and we can teach you how to sell ;-)” that sort of thing.

      • Dallas Tye

        In Australia we call trash- garbage, so makes sense. I think done with care (eg, not too trashy) it could help with bonding if delivered with a wry grin.

        I’ll be NYC in a couple of months,, I’ll ask about a ‘New York State of Mind’ then 😉

        • letsgrowleaders

          Dallas, let me know when you are coming to NYC…I’ll send you a list of get ready songs. New York State of Mind- Billy Joel.


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