Friction vs. Tension

What is the difference between friction and tension? Aren’t they the same thing? Stop being so pedantic!

First, let’s start with the formal definitions.

Friction [frik-shuh n] – noun

1. Surface resistance to relative motion, as of a body sliding or rolling.
2. The rubbing of the surface of one body against that of another.
3. Dissension or conflict between persons, nations, etc., because of differing ideas, wishes, etc.

Tension [ten-shuh n] – noun

1. The act of stretching or straining.
2. The state of being stretched or strained.
3. Mental or emotional strain; intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety, or excitement.

I believe you need tension in a team, group, division, or organization in order to survive and thrive. I believe that you should be on a continual hunt to identify and eliminate friction from the same.

Tension is good and productive. Friction is bad and burdensome.

Tension builds stronger muscles in athletes. Tension helps keeps bridges upright and usable. Tension helps teams discuss their point of view and hear the counter points.

Friction slows things down a race car from achieving it’s peak performance. Friction dissipates energy from the momentum you are trying to build.  Friction can accumulate and eventually overwhelm.

Distinguishing responsibilities and even potentially structuring incentives carefully creates a tension that can propel your organization forward.

Build productive tensions. Eliminate friction.


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