Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Is it your job to create or reduce friction?

One of the big distinctions I've noted between working in the public and private sector is in the level of friction when attempting to get things done.

I define friction as the amount of red tape, process, procedure and protocols that slows down the achievement of a defined goal.

The more red tape, the more friction, and generally the longer it takes to get things done.

Some roles in organisations are defined around friction - such as a procurement team, lawyers and accountants. All exist to create or reduce the level of friction in achieving a specific goal.

Other roles can influence the level of friction around a given decision or topic - from senior management through to communication and IT teams.

Now friction isn't necessarily bad. By slowing down decisions, friction can mean more viewpoints are considered and fatal errors do not occur. In fact many of the checks and balances in government are there to prevent decisions being taken too quickly or unilaterally.

However reducing friction also has benefits. The faster an outcome can be achieved, the more likely it will be relevant. Fast decisions also mean fast learning decisions - 'failing fast' - and iterative improvement towards a desired state.

Balancing the level of friction required for good decisions and outcomes is the real challenge. How much or little friction is good?

This obviously depends on the outcome desired, the level of scrutiny required around a decision and who is affected as a result.

However, generally, the aim should be to have as little friction as possible within the overall constraints of the goal.

So what about your role in the public sector, is it to create or reduce friction - and do you create or reduce friction for others?

If your focus is on increasing friction, consider whether this actually advantages your organisation and its goals. Sometimes people simply create friction out of fear, rather than in the best interests of an organisation's goals.

If your focus is on reducing friction, consider whether some friction needs to be preserved for good decision-making. Also think about how your colleagues may feel as it gets faster and easier to achieve certain outcomes - many will welcome this, but a few will be concerned about a loss of control, fear greater failure or scrutiny.

When you work with others think about whether you are creating or reducing friction - and whether you're taking the appropriate stance for a situation.

Friction isn't necessarily bad, but the least friction possible is almost always good.

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