The health of an organization can often time be measured by the friction within. Friction is defined as (a) the rubbing of one body against another, (b) the force that resists relative motion between two bodies in contact, and (c) the clashing between two persons or parties of opposed views. Earlier this week a valued teammate stopped by the office to catch up, talk through some exciting opportunities, and share his perspective on the health of our team. It’s a conversation we have regularly and an engagement I look forward to. This particular conversation included his assessment of friction outside our immediate team. Friction he knew I was creating.

Much like a well-oiled machine, I prefer a frictionless environment. For that reason, I tend not to engage in debate, though I am a big fan of a healthy dialogue (thoughts on the difference here). I enjoy seeing teams firing on all cylinders and I most certainly appreciate witnessing the outcomes generated by said engine. But what happens when the outputs are less than desired, when the saying-doing gap is not decreasing in size, or when blind consensus begins to resemble apathy?  My answer…leaders create friction.

Personal accountability, constructive dissent, and diverse perspectives can at times look like unnecessary friction to some. It can also be just what the team needs. In this on-demand world in which we live, comfort is often the objective. We consume a news feed that comfortably amplifies our personal opinions on our screen of choice as we sit alone together in our personal echo chamber. Frictionless.

And nearly always, comfort is the enemy of progress. And if we acknowledge that all things are in one of two states, growing (progress) or dying (erosion), what does comfort begin to resemble? What does discomfort inspire? In the spirit of both discomfort and growth, I have been known to create my fair share of what I characterize as responsible friction. Sometimes it feels unfair to the recipient. Sometimes they take the defensive. Most times it stimulates action or at the very least thoughtful reflection. When responsible friction is introduced, the true health of the organization is revealed. The question is, are antibodies automatically released in an attempt to defend the status quo or does the team/individual respond in such a way that it shifts gears, alters course, and becomes more effective?

It is irresponsible for a leader to create friction when things are working and it is equally irresponsible for a leader to let the engine run when it clearly isn’t operating effectively. It is the responsibility of the leader to know when to add lubrication and when to introduce friction? If we choose to shy away from introducing friction so we don’t upset our teammates, we must be willing to accept things the way they are. If we know the “as is” to be unacceptable, then we must inspire change – we must create responsible friction. A frictionless environment is optimal, but only when the outcomes generated are as well. A frictionless environment that generates suboptimal outcomes is in need of a leader. A leader who cares so much as to introduce friction.

  • Are you more concerned with the amount of friction across or the outcomes generated by your team?
  • When was the last time you created responsible friction for the good of another?
  • How does your team respond when friction is introduced?