I am choosing collaboration over competition in the consulting field every day. Frankly, it's wonderful.
At a very young age, we are taught to compete to prove your worth - at least I was. In kindergarten, my competition were the kids who drew better and spoke French better because they spoke it at home. In elementary and high school, my competition was anyone who was getting better grades than me, even if it was my best friend. To me, it started out as friendly competition, but that changes quickly when South-Asian parents get involved. Regardless of any setbacks I had that were out of my control (for example my parents not speaking French at home or French TV being a non-existant part of my life), I had to excel, better than my peers, at every thing to prove I was worthy. I had to be the best, no matter what, as I am sure a lot of you reading can relate to. It was hard, tiring, and would take a toll on me from time to time. If this is your experience from Pre-K to high school, chances are this was also your attitude in your post-secondary life.
With this mindset, naturally, when you start out in any field, your first instinct is to canvass for competitors. You scope out who is doing something similar, who is serving the same audience, and of course, who is seeking the same funding and financing opportunities. All this information we are taught to acquire for the purpose of getting out ahead of the others, selling more, selling better, growing faster, making more money - crushing the competition. This competitive mindset isn't just in cold, cutthroat, corporate settings, it's also in spaces that claim to be inclusive and nurturing. At the end of the day, when our whole worth system (worthy of attention, worthy of growth, worthy of funding, worthy of existence) is defined by who we are out-performing, it's hard to not think about who our competitors are.
When I started my consulting business, as sole-proprietor I knew that there was a lot of work out there for me to tackle alone. I also knew where I brought value and where I needed the support and guidance of others. I saw a gap in how organisations approached their goals and ambitious Yes-Please funding deliverables, which always came at the cost of employee burnout, high staff turnover with no institutional knowledge transfer processes, poor or unraveling management, etc. When I thought of starting my business and designing what my offers were going to center around, I thought to myself, “Of course there were trainings and facilitators out there working on capacity building, but maybe there just isn't enough.” I wanted to be a part of the network and community of practitioners, an addition to the work that was happening. Was my initial reflex to “scope out the competition”? Yes. I'm not going to lie! But my immediate thought that followed was “why?” I don't have to compete with anyone, there is more than enough work out there for everyone. I was reminded of this every time by other consultants, DEI and capacity practitioners I met through my initial phase of peer outreach.
What are we actually gaining from competing with each other in the community sector? From where I stand, I can’t see any real fruit from competition since what we’re really doing is rendering the little resources we have at our disposition even more scarce. If we are a social enterprise, and we have a community-oriented mission, then the goal for our work is to help, support and uplift our clients - competition just makes upholding that mission harder. When we collaborate, share our access to funding, to resources, we are pooling the instruments of assured success. We are amplifying our impact when we are delivering the work to our communities. If you’ve been swimming in competitive waters your whole life, reaching out and embracing collaborative approaches can seem counter-intuitive. But I assure you, in the end, it’s worth it.
Here is what I DID and am continuing to do to NOT fall prey to competitive culture when starting out in the consulting world:
Defined my values and compared my goals and strategies against them every time.
Made a list of everyone doing the same or similar work in Montreal or Canada for an outreach and introduction call.
Curated my services to be collaborative and leave room to include other facilitators.
Spent a lot of time cultivating friendships through all my previous career roles to bring with me in this new adventure.
I hope that if you're feeling the pressure to perform better, to produce more, know that you don't have to constantly compete, you can choose to collaborate. Chances are that you will get farther, work smarter and build stronger.