Lately, one word keeps emerging in the stories I write, the conversations I have, and the events I attend: collaboration.

For this issue of the magazine, the concept arose twice -- when covering the new group internship model developed by five Chicago-area CPA firms, and in interviewing international firm association staff and members about regional nuances. It was also a topic of conversation during a recent happy hour arranged for the women of our parent company, where we discussed the perceived enemy of collaboration, competition. As we compete for the same jobs, how can we also work together to advance women in the workforce?

By the same token, did those five firms worry they would be competing for the same interns once their eight-week program ended? Do firm associations grant territorial exclusivity to member firms that don't want rival members on their turf?

The responses were as nuanced as the real relationship between competition and teamwork. "Friendly competition," for example, can be motivational, and what one of the managing partners described as the force behind the collaborative internship program. Differentiation also ensured that interns would find the best cultural and pricing-structure fit among the five firms, and vice versa.

Within international associations, the threat of competition varies by region, with U.S. firms typically less shy about asking fellow members for help in areas where they lack certain skills or services, because of their confidence in what they can give in return.

Successfully aligning yourself or your business with "the competition" to mutual benefit, then, requires the kind of pride expressed by these firm and association leaders -- in yourself, in what you do, and subsequently the program, association or demographic to which you belong.

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