General counsel – indeed all managers, one hopes – want capable, ambitious people to report to them and a measure of competitiveness among them. Even so, they disapprove if competitive drives by those reports threaten the manager’s position (See my post of Jan. 18, 2007: general counsel fear usurpation; and April 30, 2006: reluctance of some to mentor potential challengers.). They mightily disapprove if jockeying for position and recognition throws monkey wrenches into team effectiveness (See my post of Oct. 10, 2005: competition among direct reports; and April 16, 2007: passed-over lawyers.).
Competition between lawyers can crop up everywhere in a law department (See my post of June 6, 2008: differences between non-cooperation, competition, conflict, and sabotage; Aug. 5, 2005: competition over who should manage business-unit litigation; Dec. 10, 2005: positional goods; June 24, 2007: career path quagmire; March 16, 2008: a game theoretic view of competition between lawyers; April 20, 2008: gender differences; April 22, 2008: competition through mind-enhancing drugs; May 29, 2008: “competitive arousal” situations; Dec. 23, 2005: racehorses in paddocks; and Feb. 28, 2006: the desirability of an officer title.).
Unhealthy competition can degenerate into withholding information or resources that would help someone else do better (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006: passive-aggressive behavior; and Feb. 9, 2008: silos that keep to themselves.). Unbridled competition unleashes open conflict (See my post of May 2, 2007: political fights stress the newly promoted; Jan. 20, 2007: task and relationship conflicts; and June 5, 2007: virulent politics.). Sabotage takes competition to a deliberately destructive level (See my post of Oct. 24, 2006 on rumors; and April 13, 2007 #4 on gossip.).
Competition brings out the best in some people, but unhinges others (See my post of June 12, 2005: causes of in-house stress; Sept. 10, 2005: internal time tracking can increase competitiveness; Sept. 10, 2005: OK to have some B-players who have hit a plateau; and Oct. 18, 2005: no lawyer wants to do rocket science all the time.).
General counsel can themselves feel competitive with those above and below them (See my post of March 24, 2007: general counsel competing with former GC now promoted; June 16, 2007: co-general counsels; and Aug. 10, 2007: personality disorders among GCs.).
Not much that is explicit and practical can be said about how an in-house manager should deal with unwarranted competitive juices. It is unarguable that a manager should try to temper competition that has degenerated into dysfunction (See my post of June 5, 2007: office politics.). Also pablum is the exhortation to increase competition to the point where you maximize effort and results. Sigh, not much crunchiness in any recommendations.