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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Friction changes things

project, program, portfolio
Friction makes day to day activities much more difficult!

“Friction changes everything” Scott Adams periscope broadcast

“It's not the work which kills people, it's the worry. It's not the revolution that destroys machinery it's the friction.” Henry Ward Beecher

The other day a friend of mine called to complain about how things were going in his organization. He works in a completely different organization and normally the conversation turns to tales of bureaucratic ineptness. On this particular call he told me that “leadership” issued new and elevated approval levels for certain types of activities. I asked him what he was going to do, and he told me that he would just avoid those activities! Who needs the additional scrutiny?

That is friction!

Anytime you add to the level of effort or disincentivize an activity, you are adding friction. And you will get less of that activity.

Friction is a very helpful tool to intentionally modify behavior. But what if it is unintentional?

I have also experienced situations where the right thing to do was obvious, but my ability to get it done was hampered by a complicated web of rules and processes. I am sure at one point every step made sense to someone, but cumulatively they created so much friction that any reasonable person would look at the level of effort required and determine it wasn’t worth it.

Do you want that when it is the right thing? Of course not!

Here are some signs you work in an organization where friction is unintentionally harming your core processes:

· Processes that should be routine require exception processing.

· Accomplishing any non – routine activity requires multiple layers of approval regardless of impact or cost

· Leaders recognize the need to act, but are thwarted by rules or process

· People avoid desirable behavior because of the effort required to get permission

· Well recognized existential threats are not addressed because of bureaucratic challenges

· Certain processes are widely recognized as dysfunctional, but never get improved

If you read these examples and say “Yep, that's just like where I work!”, you have a friction problem.

Unnecessary friction is an anathema to any organization. It harms productivity and destroys morale. If you see any of those signs in your organization, you have an obligation to your team to try to remove the friction.

Help your team, don't make their job more difficult by adding barriers!


I celebrated Thanksgiving by visiting my relatives. They live in a beautiful home in a climate that is much warmer than Maryland, so it was a great time! I try to avoid political discussions when visiting people because I really enjoy sleeping inside. I was successful in doing so until the last day when my relative made a very derogatory comment about a famous politician. His comment was “How could I ever support him? He tells so many lies!”. I responded with this question, “Can you name one?”. And he couldn’t! Not a single one! A rational response would be for my relative to take this new information and do a little introspection on their position, but of course that won’t happened. Because facts no longer matter.


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