Recently a colleague demonstrated a shared Microsoft OneNote notebook in which he and other members of his team posted their weekly accomplishments in sort of bulleted lists. The idea was that they could monitor one another's bandwidth so they could assist one another. I saw it differently however: to me it seemed that it sort of pitted them against one another to see who could have more bullets on their list of accomplishments.

Is there any better term than "pitted against" to describe this method of trying to motivate someone by guilt or by always trying not to seem the team's weakest link? It isn't quite the stick, but it definitely isn't the carrot.

  • Sometimes the competition is definitely the stick. In Glengarry Glen Ross, all salesmen were required to compete for top sales. All but the top two were to be fired. – bib Sep 3 '14 at 14:46
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    Good question! I feel there must be at least one single-word verb with this set in conflict or rivalry against another sense, but offhand I just can't think of one. Btw - I suppose the usage to pit against is a metaphoric reference to putting dogs, bears, etc., in a fighting pit, but I don't know. – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '14 at 14:48
  • They actually are asked 'to confront' each other and see who is doing better. – user66974 Sep 3 '14 at 14:49
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    Off-topic, but to make it fair, the bulleted items should also be weighted for degree of usefulness. That would make the number of listed items a little less relevant. – Kristina Lopez Sep 3 '14 at 14:49
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    Thanks @Josh61 I feel like, yes, there is implied confrontation because they're definitely all fighting for praise in a sense. But it isn't really like dogs fighting in any aggressive capacity. It's like a sort of a battle to see who can be more professionally obsequious. Sort of. – 1252748 Sep 3 '14 at 14:53

I think to say they are vying with each other rather than being pitted against each other would suggest more of a co-operative business relationship. Competing within the same team but not in conflict.

  • I like this observation. – 1252748 Sep 3 '14 at 18:25

If the point you want to make is that this motivation method is going to cause employees to waste time inventing and promoting minor or irrelevant accomplishments as successes on a competitive weekly list, you might frame the problem as "creating an arms race for bullet points."

  • I know it is sort of in opposition to my original intent behind posting the question, but this is so clever I'd feel sort of guilty stealing it :) – 1252748 Sep 3 '14 at 20:11
  • But I think I will. – 1252748 Sep 3 '14 at 20:11

The term friendly rivalry is sometimes used to describe this situation.

Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field [Oxford Dictionaries Online]

Similarly the phrase dueling [somethings] is often used to convey a competition between two similarly matched practitioners of the [something] skill.

[MAINLY JOURNALISM] a close competition between two people or teams [Macmillan]

Dueling Banjos, a popular song from the movie Deliverance, is a prime example, but a search for dueling provides many other examples.

If the rankings are publicly displayed, they could be said to be on a leaderboard.

a large board for displaying the ranking of the leaders in a competitive event (as a golf tournament) [Merriam-Webster]

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