A Principle I Learned Working Through Team Friction

Several years ago an important team principle was shaped for me during what was really a normal season in our organization. We were in a fast growth period, but that, thankfully, was normal for us. As far as I knew things were healthy on our team. We had all the right players on board and some clarity of where we were going. Team friction developed on our team though. It was nothing 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. And, so the best teams will have friction at times. The only way to avoid some it would be to institute a more controlled environment, where opinions don’t matter. But, then friction really isn’t eliminated. It’s just silenced – for a time.

And, some friction can be good for a time. 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. It wasn’t creating progress. It was creating unnecessary stress. 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 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. And, 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.

But, when there is no system in place to address those concerns, or when the system isn’t good enough. to address the current issues in the current season of change, people will perform the best they know how to perform. They will either function under the current systems the best they knew how or they will 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.

But, 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. And, in the process, unnecessary friction developed, which was totally natural.

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

Sometimes, as a leader, you can calm the 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.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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