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How Team Friction Can Help Your Team

team friction

An important leadership principle was shaped for me during what seemed to be a normal season in our organization. We were experiencing fast growth, but, thankfully, that was normal for us. It seemed things were healthy on the team. We had the right players and clarity of vision, however, team friction developed. It wasn’t major, but it was noticeable.

This isn’t unusual on teams. Even the best teams are made of imperfect people with differing views and opinions of how things should be done. So, the best teams will have friction at times. The only way to avoid it would be to institute a more controlled environment, where opinions don’t matter. However, friction really isn’t eliminated. It’s just silenced – for a time.

Some team friction can be good.

It means things are moving forward, change is occurring and there is the potential for future progress. You don’t get to progress without change. Change takes you into an unknown. So change, at least in the beginning stages, always creates a certain amount of friction.

But I knew this kind of friction was unusual for our team. It was more tense than usual. Progress was being curtailed some. Unnecessary stress was being created. I could see the potential for negative consequences long-term if, as the leader, I didn’t address it.

Thankfully, it was easy to diagnose the cause of our team friction. It isn’t always, but this time it was.

Our team friction resulted from:

  • Miscommunication
  • Unclear expectations
  • Unknown objectives

Have you ever seen any of those cause friction on a team?

We all have. Those are common reasons for friction in any relationship, and they can cause havoc on a healthy team.

Here’s the principle that emerged:

Apart from a system nothing was done wrong.

Here’s what I mean.

Sure, the friction was wrong if I allowed it to go on long-term. We have to get along to be a healthy team. Plus, without a doubt, the miscommunication, unclear expectations, unknown objectives were all wrong. They are common and all natural occurrences even on a healthy team, but we can’t let them continue without continually trying to address them.

Yet, when there is no system in place to address those concerns, or when the system isn’t good enough to address the issues in the current season, people will perform the best they know how to perform. When current systems don’t work people do the best they knew how or make up how they think things should be done. And, friction grows.

Systems are important:

  • If you want something repeated and done well you systematize it.
  • If you want something done better you create better systems.

Progress and change stretches current systems.

So, every system should continually be:

  • Evaluated
  • Reconstructed
  • Refined

Systems drive progress and if you want better progress keep creating better systems.

So, back to our team’s friction. As a leader, it was important for me to realize and remind people: No one did anything wrong. We were making decisions the best we knew how under the current stretched systems. In the process, unnecessary friction developed, which was totally natural.

What was important was that we learned from team friction and wrote a system – or a better system, in order to keep that type of friction to a minimum.

You can calm team friction on your team by:

  • Releasing people of a sense of guilt, which only causes them to be defensive and results in even more friction.
  • Identifying the need for improved systems.
  • Leading the process to create or develop better systems.

Here’s to writing better systems – until we need to tweak them again.


This article on team friction originally appeared here, and is used by permission. Check out Ron’s leadership podcast where he discusses issues of leadership nuggets in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.