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Winning among friends

 There are plenty of ways to lose. People can be unlucky, unskilled, or unprepared. People can simply be overmatched. However, it takes a special kind of talent to lose in spite of having all the luck, skill, and preparation. These special losers have more than enough capability to overwhelm the competition, yet they stall or flat out fail. These people don’t know how to win. That’s pathetic.

Given the time of year, you might think I’m talking about football or basketball, but I’m not even referring to competitive contests. I’m talking about win-win situations at work, where people with the right opportunities, the right skillset, and the right knowledge still find ways to fail.

How can you lose with all the advantages on your side? By creating enemies. By making it personal. By being unwilling to share the spoils. It’s stupid. It happens all time. You’ve probably done it yourself. It needs to stop.

Happy together

Cross-team projects at work sometimes seem competitive, but they aren’t. Everyone works for the same company. If there’s a winner and loser then you’re doing it wrong, since your company loses. Instead, cross-team projects should always be win-win situations. I talk about this in detail in My way or the highway—Negotiation.

Losers fail with five fatal faux pas:

  • Neglecting showstoppers.
  • Making it personal.
  • Embarrassing co-workers.
  • Mismanaging change (inviting sabotage).
  • Encouraging second guesses.

Let’s lose these losers with lethal logic.

I can’t go any further

You can’t expect any person or team to ignore a showstopper. However, losers ignore their co-workers’ and partner teams’ showstoppers all the time, and subsequently fail, simply because they never bothered to find out what all the showstoppers were.

How do winners determine showstoppers for their co-workers and partner teams? They ask. Duh. Then they design solutions that avoid the issues. Really. It’s that simple. Don’t you feel foolish now? All you had to do was ask first.

Eric Aside

Missing other teams’ showstoppers is a common issue when taking dependencies. I cover this in more detail in You can depend on me.

This time it’s personal

Sometimes the best solution is someone else’s, but losers put their personal interests first. It’s their solution, or it’s not a solution. Good luck with that.

Look, I get it. You want credit. You want the spotlight. You want to seem like the smartest person in the room. But what matters is finding a solution that works for your company, not for your ego. If you refuse to concede, then you lose and get credit on your review for losing. If you help others succeed, then you win and get credit for winning, even if the solution wasn’t yours.

Eric Aside

The Microsoft review system has historically rewarded personal glory. Even though the new review system specifically rewards “Your contributions to the success of others,” you don’t want to take any chances. The key is righteously claiming credit for your successes, including success through collaboration and compromise. On my review, I highlight all of my team’s outstanding results, praising our work with partners. After all, there are few results we can achieve in pure isolation.

You saved me

Sometimes the best solution is yours, but as a loser you can’t let anyone else take the credit. So you force your co-workers to concede defeat. That’s embarrassing. No one likes to lose. So the co-workers do everything possible to make the best solution fail. Now everyone loses. Awesome.

Remember, it’s winning together that matters. Be gracious. Be generous. Allow your co-workers to “save face.” Skip the “I told you so.” Skip the gloating. Give your co-workers credit for helping you arrive at the solution. Incorporate some of their ideas. Talk about how you won together. Make everyone feel part of your combined success.

Eric Aside

The recent U.S. budget negotiations provide great examples of getting this wrong and later getting it right.

We’re not gonna take it

Every new solution represents a change. As described in Rogers’ diffusion of innovations, early adopters will usually welcome the change, but laggards will always reject it and possibly sabotage it. Losers ignore laggards and just force the change upon them, and everyone else, before the solution has gained people’s trust, before it has gathered momentum, and before its advantages have been clearly proven.

As I describe in Things have got to change, you need to win people over to win. Make the case for change, define measurable goals, baseline your metrics so you can see improvement, prime people for what’s coming, pilot your solution, gain experience and proven success, and then spread your solution broadly. By the time the laggards are forced to engage, you’ll already have the overwhelming majority enjoying your solution and committed to its success.

Eric Aside

Poor change management is probably the most devastating of all the faux pas. That’s because big changes need change management the most, and poor change management can overwhelm even the best solutions. There are countless examples of poor change management, but you need not look beyond your own reactions for evidence.

How do you feel when change is thrust upon you, without warning, without proof of need or value, and with only a gratuitous request for input? That type of change is the worst. It fails long term, consistently. Effective change management doesn’t require tremendous effort, but it does require forethought and care. It’s worth it to win big.

You had me at hello

The final faux pas is what’s known as “selling past the close.” Losers keep listing all the benefits of their solution, even after co-workers are convinced and have agreed to use it. The extra sales job results in two responses from co-workers: feeling insulted (“I already agreed. Do you think I’m stupid?”) or feeling uncertain (“I already agreed. Did I miss something?”).

Once people agree with your solution, continuing to convince them of its merits cannot improve the result. In fact, the only outcome you can expect is convincing them to reconsider. Stop. Shut your mouth. Enjoy a quiet moment of glory.

Eric Aside

I know this faux pas seems superfluous, but it’s a common, sad, simple mistake that’s easily avoided. It’s also the basis for countless comedies and tragedies in which the hero is in position to win, but takes that one last bite, that one last move, that one last unnecessary risk. You know the rest.

All for one

If you want to win in a collaborative environment, you need to be inclusive and appreciative. Discover and accommodate the concerns of your co-workers. Forgo your solution for the best solution. Share the credit, regardless of whose idea it was. Engage others in the solution’s gradual roll out, having it gather strength as it grows. And when people agree on a solution, move on to the next challenge.

Don’t be fortunate, smart, and ready, and still fail. Learn to be a winner. Forgo the five fatal faux pas, get out of your own way, and revel in your shared success.


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  1. Arieh Arieh

    I love the idea, but doing this this is difficult.

    Lets say for example that you are working on a project and someone (2/3 levels) above you decides to create another project that partly competes with yours. The first reaction is "why did he do this? he probably thinks we can't do this… so we have to prove we can!".

    Not only that, but you start wondering if your bosses aren't missing something… or maybe they don't really know what you are doing. So you doubly have to prove that what YOU are doing is important, better. After all, if your managers don't understand what you are doing, this means that you are doing something unimportant.

    It all breaks down to having a good and transparent management layer that is aware of what is happening under them and when there is duplication this is done EXPLICITY.

    Anyway, great post, as always.

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