Working With Rivals

Keeping Your Integrity While Protecting Your Territory

Working With Rivals - Keeping Your Integrity While Protecting Your Territory


Work with your rivals to achieve your goals.

Have you ever wondered how the colorful characters of television's famous A-Team managed to stay talking to one another long enough to catch the bad guys? Or how Star Trek's™ Captain Kirk and his crew were able to "boldly go" without falling out before they got there?

These two popular shows revolved around teams of strong personalities, who were able to work together to achieve great things, despite their differences. The same can be said of working with a rival. Although undoubtedly difficult at times – they are the competition, after all – working effectively with people who challenge us can be a great learning opportunity.

You might find yourself facing a rival at any point in your career. Maybe you manage a long-serving team member who, frustrated that there are no opportunities for promotion, has begun to "eye-up" your job. Or you might have been asked to collaborate on a project with other managers, some of whom are plainly ambitious and out to claim all the credit. Perhaps you've been working hard for a promotion, but one of your colleagues keeps taking over your workload in the hope that he or she will get it instead.

This article will explore the tools that you need to work successfully with your rivals.

How Can Working With a Rival Help You?

Business leaders often deliberately form teams that have "sharp edges" – whether it's a team of executives vying for the same role, or a group of co-workers who have differing opinions. Despite the potential for friction, working in a team of rivals can engage people in healthy debate, help to generate new ideas, and improve teamwork skills.

However, working with a rival is not always so easy. Having too many rivals on one team, or allowing people to be divided, for instance, may make the team implode. If this behavior goes unchecked, team members may descend into backbiting and aggressive arguing. They can then end up ignoring their objectives and failing to make progress.

How to Work Effectively With a Rival

Finding yourself up against a rival at work can undoubtedly prove difficult, particularly if you are not a naturally competitive person. You might feel that he is trying to undermine you, or that he is trying to take the credit for your hard work.

But working in a team of rivals can be a positive thing. The team will likely contain different people with different opinions and a wide range of skills. This can make it stronger and more successful.

You owe it to yourself to work just as well with your rival as you do with your other co-workers. Few might remember the personal adversity that you faced in doing so, but they will remember whether you successfully achieved your objectives or let your rivalry get the better of you. Follow these five steps to avoid such pitfalls, and work effectively with your rival.

1. Don't Be an Ostrich!

Instead of "burying your head in the sand," keep it up and alert to what's going on! This will allow you to assess the competition. You might, for example, be able to identify areas where you're not in direct competition or conflict with your rival but could, instead, cooperate happily with her.

Staying aware of your competitors' actions will also allow you to identify any potential power shifts between your rivals more quickly, assess their motives and predict their next steps. Comparing your rivals' actions and learning from their mistakes could help you to gain an advantage, and could enable you to make better decisions.


Use tools such as Influence Maps and Stakeholder Analysis to help you to assess shifts in power among your rivals and to identify your key project influencers. Knowing where the influence lies, both within your team of rivals and outside of it, can be vital to gaining support for your ideas and projects.

Carry out a personal SWOT analysis to compare and contrast your strengths and weaknesses with those of your rivals. In this way, you can identify what areas you feel they have a competitive edge on you, and where you might learn from them.

2. Stay Professional

Going head-to-head with a rival doesn't mean that you should act any differently than usual. Stay as professional as you would if you were working with a group of trusted colleagues. In this way, you can ensure that, if things do fail, it's not because of your actions or attitude.

Demonstrate your ability to work effectively with your rivals by not playing the "blame game", and by spreading positivity within the team. If you're openly trying to do this, it puts pressure on your rival to do the same – or he risks looking bitter and unhelpful.

Have confidence in your ideas, even if you're unsure of how much support that your rivals will give you. No one will know how great your ideas are if you can't promote them effectively. Be assertive in meetings to make sure that you get your ideas across. At the same time, it's important to listen to others' views – you may even find that you agree with them!

3. Manage Your Emotions

No matter what your true feelings about your rival are, don't let them get the better of you. Good manners cost nothing (even if they aren't reciprocated).

If your emotions do end up taking control, spend some time exploring anger management or stress busting techniques. Be emotionally intelligent so that you can recognize and respond to your and your rival's emotions and behavior. This can help you to work more productively alongside her and to build team spirit.

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4. Stay on Your Toes

As well as managing your own emotions, watch out for how your rival is handling his. Not everyone might act as professionally and positively as you do. If you are finding it hard to work with him, see our article on how to handle difficult people.

If you encounter real problems while working with your rival, it might be due to a personality clash. There are plenty of tools that can help you to navigate the best course of action if you find yourself in this situation. Learn more about passive-aggressive and angry or controlling colleagues, to help you to work successfully with these tricky – but ultimately, manageable – people.

5. Seek Out Opportunities

Think about what position you want to be in after working with your rival. How do your objectives compare to hers? What can you seek to gain from your time on a team with her? Has the experience changed your perspective on your supposed rivalry?

Even when your colleague is also your rival, you can still learn from one another, build trust and strengthen your relationship. You might even discover that you have more in common than you first thought. Remember to be open-minded. Your rival could become a great ally in the future, if you can learn to work collaboratively and productively together.


Avoid gossiping about your rival behind his back. Although acting in this way may give you a short-term advantage, preserving your integrity and remaining professional will be more beneficial in the long term.

Key Points

Working with a rival is not necessarily a bad thing, and it shouldn't be viewed as such. Instead, see it as an opportunity to learn from your competition, grow your network of contacts, generate new ideas, and prove yourself to be a good team player in testing circumstances.

Surviving and thriving in a team of rivals requires a number of skills – from strong leadership and great team work to emotional intelligence, decisiveness and assertiveness. Remember to remain professional and open-minded, even when your feelings are running high. At the same time, keep your wits about you – your rival might not act with the same integrity that you do.

Keeping a cool head throughout will help to boost your reputation, showcase your ability to work with difficult people, and demonstrate to your bosses that you are not afraid of a challenge.