Friction at work … how much is too much?!

Updated: Oct 24, 2019


Having friction at the workplace is not always a bad thing. On the contrary there can be healthy frictions that help business to move forward. This healthy friction stimulates people to find new solutions to their issues. As long as all those involved know that those frictions are created only to enhance the business.


In his article published at forbes.com, Jeff Miller, the organizational effectiveness expert talks about “Why Introduce Friction?” He states that the growth of any organization is not infinite, he believes that growth without encouraging challenges and endorsing changes would lead to a definite decline at the end. He states, “avoiding decline requires questioning the status quo and implementing changes as close to the peak of the growth period (but before the decline) as possible.


Similarly, by introducing friction to your team during the growth phase …, you push them to keep innovating and keep growing — rather than having to troubleshoot in the midst of a decline”.


Jeff continues his enlightening article by advising us when to introduce such frictions and how to keep them healthy; he states, “Be careful not to introduce friction just for the sake of friction, however. You’ll only breed confusion and even distrust among your team. To avoid this pitfall, remember to take the time to consider why, … creating friction is about strategically finding ways to improve the employees’ ability to do what they do”. The point here is you have to make sure that all the challenges and arguments you are raising are to serve one purpose only, which is to improve on the current way of doing things and to further grow business. This should be crystal clear to you and –more importantly—to the ones you are challenging, or better say, enhancing.


In practicality and on the ground, PEAK enhancers—as I describe them in my book— should follow a certain approach that would help offer true positive support:

- First, eliminate any possible negative reactions by stating the purpose and benefits of the discussion from the start. Remind others that you are not here arguing for the sake of argument, or to satisfy a personal agenda. You are here to provide support and to compliment the experience and knowledge of your peers.


- Second, play the devil’s advocate, ask questions that stimulate your peers to think and analyze their issues more effectively. Accept all suggestions but don’t go ahead with any of them until all options are on the table and there is nothing more to add. Stimulate others to list more solutions to the problem in hand even if those solutions look difficult or unfamiliar.


- Third, discuss each option – objectively and openly – trying to compare between various scenarios to find the one most suitable for the situation in hand. Allow people to challenge each other’s solutions and moderate their debates to make it fruitful, ending up with filtering out those solutions and deciding on the ones to keep without raising tension between peers. At this stage the debate may get hot and people may get derailed away from the purpose of the discussion. Remind them again with the purpose of the discussion and moderate them away from negative frictions.


- Fourth, once the majority agrees to move ahead in a certain direction start showing the pros and cons of this direction and drive the team to think of mitigation plans to build on the pros and avoid the cons.


- Fifth, agree on the plan to move forward and decide / ask people to decide who does what in order for this plan to succeed.


A critical point to highlight: The first person that a PEAK enhancer should offer support to is himself! One of the key challenges I found with my clients – and with myself as well – is their great ability to offer support and stimulation to others, while when dealing with their own issues they find themselves helpless and clueless. It seems that in many cases we can help others effectively, but we can’t help our own selves, especially when it comes to fulfilling our own career paths and helping ourselves move ahead in our careers.


A big and critical success factor for being a PEAK enhancer is to be able to be you own self-supporter. Adding value to oneself is as important as adding value at the workplace, and this is one of the topic of our coming posts.



"Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress." Mahatma Gandhi
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