Helping Young Adults Balance Collaboration and Competition

September 15, 2017

By Thomas Broderick

Preparing for college and real life requires much more than learning facts and performing well on standardized tests. Life skills are just as important. Parents and teachers agree that topics like money management and career planning are essential for young adults’ future success. Yet when it comes to collaboration and competition, teachers and parents are at a crossroads. On one hand, students should know how to work well with others, contribute to a team, and even become a leader when the time is right. On the other hand, students’ peers are their future competition for not just a spot at a competitive college, but for future career opportunities, as well.

So what should teachers and parents emphasize to the young adults in their care? Always aspire to be the shining star when working with others, or put the team first? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Push children too far one way, they will lack the skills to work well with others. Push children too far the other way, people might take advantage of their hard work.

No matter the students’ personalities, there are ways to teach them how to balance collaboration and competition when working with others. In this article, we’ll explore both sides of the issue and discuss ways to give college and career-bound students the best of both worlds.

Competition

High school students are in competition with one another for top grades, SAT scores, spots on the team, and winning the romantic affections of another student. Competition is a deeply ingrained part of the high school experience, all of it culminating in the fight for a spot at one of the best colleges or universities. However, just because students compete in high school does not equate into all students knowing how to compete in a healthy, productive, and most importantly, fair way.

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At the same time, teachers have little choice but to promote competition among their students. After all, applying to college, landing a career – they all require students to become fiercely competitive. Yet this environment, in addition to teenagers’ general inexperience, can lead to one of two unhealthy habits:

  • Focused too much on competition that hurts others to achieve personal goals.
  • Buckles under the constant pressure and gives up, negatively affecting grades and relationships with others.

Collaboration

From the world’s largest companies to the smallest local businesses, employees who can collaborate with their coworkers are at an advantage for promotions, leadership roles, and a larger salary. In short, it pays to know how to collaborate. In high school, teachers traditionally promote collaboration through group activities and projects. After school, coaches and club leaders promote teamwork.

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In the 21st century, teaching collaboration skills may need a tune-up. For example, two collaborators working on a project entirely online sidesteps many collaboration pitfalls such as incompatible personalities. However, technology can complicate collaboration by taking out the human element. This lack of direct interaction can impede the formation of strong professional relationships.

Now that we’ve explored some of the benefits and pitfalls of both collaboration and competition, let’s discuss what teachers and parents can do to instill healthy attitudes into young adults.

What Teachers Can Do

There are many things teachers can do to promote healthy collaboration and competition in their classrooms and after-school activities:

  • For group projects, have both individual and group grades. This way, a student is responsible to herself and to the larger group. Neglecting one over the other will have negative consequences for the student.
  • Let students make mistakes. No matter what classroom strategies you implement to help students navigate the fine line between collaboration and competition, students are bound to make mistakes. Unless these mistakes were disregarding/breaking the rules you set for an assignment, use them as a teaching opportunity rather than a punitive one.

What Parents Can Do

As a parent, you have a greater opportunity (and responsibility) to teach your children life skills that will serve them well in a world that promotes competition and collaboration.

  • Promote healthy collaboration and competition outside of school. One of the best ways a young adult can learn about collaboration and competition is through a summer job. The stakes are higher, money is on the line, and your child will interact with new people of all ages and personalities.
  • Tell life stories. By the time your child is a teenager, he or she probably no longer considers you a perfect person. Though that change in perception can burst your bubble, it is a great way to start talking to your child about your life experiences. For example, discuss a time when you worked with someone who did not perform well, and how you handled the situation. Maybe someone stole your idea, or took advantage of your kind nature. Or maybe you were the one who took advantage of others. No matter the case, share these stories with your child and how the experience made you a wiser and better person. Your child may still make mistakes, but at least she will take some of your wisdom with him or her.

Final Thoughts

Walking the fine line between collaboration and completion can be tricky at best. Through using the techniques I have described, I am confident that you will be successful in helping your child or student develop these valuable life skills.

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