You can have too much friction, but can you also have too little?
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Friction-free. Smooth sailing. Highly collaborative organizations. Harmonious team dynamics. These are all sought-after states for most organizations.
After all, who wants to introduce tension or friction when you could have a calm, stable organization, right?
You do, of course. That’s because calm, smooth, friction-free organizations don’t push the envelope to try new and creative ideas, they don’t fully explore possibilities, and they don’t use internal dialogue to vet ideas and concepts before they hit the external market.
The truth is that without the heat of friction, it’s hard to get breakthrough innovation.
As the saying goes, to make an omelet, you need to crack some eggs. Companies like Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, and Uber didn’t get where they are by playing it safe.
We all can cite examples of organizations, from government to industry, where tensions run rampant and conflict is out of control. That’s what happens when uncontrolled friction becomes destructive.
The secret is to find the point where there’s enough friction to stimulate the team to think more creatively — while squelching the kind of negative personal attacks that lead to escalated and ongoing conflict.
Here are five key questions to consider when evaluating the level of friction in your organization:
- Do you have teams that include diverse viewpoints and functions — or are various functions often pitted against each other?
- Do you reward groups for getting things done quickly, or for developing a more comprehensive creative approach to solving a problem?
- Are you willing to possibly compete with your own products or services in the effort to build a next-generation solution?
- Do you punish failure — or reward individuals who try out-of-the-box solutions, regardless of the outcome?
- Do you encourage customers to report complaints and issues — or do you try to minimize their interactions with your staff?
The culture and norms set by management flow down throughout an organization. To develop a constructive environment with creative friction, you’ll need leaders to step up. It’s important that they communicate that an environment where people can be honest and open is both safe and encouraged.
How this unfolds will depend on a number of factors, including the nature of the topics or issues under discussion, the state of existing relationships between individuals or functions with the organization, the prevailing culture of the organization, and even the personalities of the key individuals involved.
There may be some bumps along the way, but that’s to be expected. Keep an eye on the process. You want to light sparks to motivate your team, but you also need to monitor the flames. Don’t confuse “empowerment” with “abandonment.” You’ll need to fan the sparks till they catch on fire, but you may also need to turn down the heat at times.
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