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Gettin' Good People to Play Together: Compete or collaborate—make a conscious choice

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Collaboration is on my mind. I was recently in a room with a group of business owners, all wanting to build growing relationships with similar sized clients. It made me wonder what they were each thinking. Did they want to connect with these potential competitors? Or did they feel like running away in fear that someone might steal an idea from them or outshine them in some way?

With these questions still top of mind, I spent the end of March at Rockies spring training watching the team come together. As Casey Stengel once put it, “Gettin’ good players is easy. Gettin’ ‘em to play together is the hard part.” All those egos competing and yet, somehow, they learn to cooperate and win together. What’s true for baseball can be true for business: the most cohesive teams usually win. Small business owners can get in the game too. They just need to learn that collaborating with others is sometimes the best way to serve clients and grow their business.

Competition often means winners and losers. It ignores the fact that the fundamental purpose of being in business is to meet customers’ needs. Collaboration can put small businesses in a better position to serve customers, and eliminate the continuous work of trying to differentiate your business from competitors’. Collaboration is choosing to operate in a world of trust and support. It may not always be the solution, but it’s another great tool in the box that should be considered every time you feel that urge to compete.

Imagine what you can do

Collaborative models are everywhere, between nonprofits and businesses, education and business, hardware and software developers … but Wikipedia may be the best example of what collaborating can accomplish. We all heard the doubters question whether anyone could ever trust Wikipedia, the collaborative effort of total strangers. That was before it became a worldwide resource with millions of pages—and usually the first result in a Web search, and even more reliable than the encyclopedias of the past. “Imagine what people in your industry, or your profession could do,” Wikipedia founder Larry Sanger suggested in a recent keynote. Well, let’s imagine.

Teams typically see greater knowledge sharing, boosts in productivity and efficiency, higher quality, and more innovation as the result of collaboration. By combining their skills, insights and experience, small businesses can generate the same kinds of benefits for both their clients and themselves—and in ways you might not have thought of:

  • Market to two (or more) customer lists instead of one, and to new or different geographic areas or demographics.
  • Develop and offer complementary products or services to meet more customer needs.
  • Create synergies that enable you to reduce costs, increase capabilities and adapt better to change.
  • Leverage experience and knowledge to create better solutions.
  • Protect customer relationships with continuous and stable service when you’re sick or on vacation.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be cautious. Collaboration offers tremendous rewards, but it isn’t a free lunch. You have to choose the right partners and establish a foundation for working together. Collaborate with people who:

  • Share your values and are trustworthy
  • Share your business philosophies
  • Contribute equal or similar amounts of effort and resources
  • Establish and maintain effective communication with you
  • Share your vision and commitment

It’s probably true that competition encourages you to improve yourself, and that collaboration helps you achieve more than you could do on your own. What motivates you in choosing how you work? Make a conscious choice based on the best way to meet your customers’ needs and your business goals.


Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen  recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5

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