Why a little friction is good for high performance

We are all tribal. We belong to family tribes, work tribes and friend tribes.

It’s because we are hard wired to be social, to connect with others. On an evolutionary level it made sense for us to live in groups, to pool ideas and share knowledge. It kept us safe and enabled us to learn.

Our high performance is based on belonging.

We see leaders as those who acquire higher status, those we look up to and aspire to be more like. The reality of course is that they weren’t jet propelled to that new station on the top podium on their own; they were assisted and nurtured by their tribe.

Choosing the right tribe.

We like people like us. Familiarity is said to breed contempt, but is vital to the breeding of shared value and beliefs. Our friends and family, who we hang out with, are those who share those commonalities, which makes us feel safe.

Of course sometimes we belong to a tribe, that doesn’t work well for us. We can’t choose our family, although we can divorce ourselves from them!

What we get out of belonging to a tribe will naturally vary according to circumstance and where we are at a given point in time.

Connection is lifesaving.

Studies have shown loneliness is a killer. We are more susceptible to physical and mental illness, we die earlier and worse still it diminishes cognition. Yikes!

The time I spent living in a bed-sit in central London when doing my nursing training was the loneliest period of my life. Though surrounded by and working with people, feeling as if I didn’t belong was horrible. After six months, I thankfully moved into a shared flat, that enabled me to get my mojo back, lifted my mood and reconnected me with wanting to work and study hard.

In our modern society, more people now choose to live alone or work on their own from home, and it’s not always good for us.

We crave human contact. We do our best work with others, despite all the frictions, disagreements and petty office politics. Which is why collaborative work-spaces are becoming increasingly popular. We can be alone together.

Friction delivers our best work

 While you may not choose to be deliberately argumentative, or be part of a political faction, diversity of thinking and ideas is crucial to personal and organisational health and wellbeing. This avoids the problem of groupthink and confirmatory bias where we choose to agree with the voice of the group, not because the voice is right, but to demonstrate our allegiance to the tribe.

Back in 1996 the late Steve Jobs in an interview, described why team friction is good. He related the story of a neighbor who lived down his street when he was a young boy; an old man that Steve was a little bit scared of. One day this man invited Steve into his garage (that might not always be a good thing to concur with!) and showed him a rock tumbler in which he had put some stones.

(Yes, some neighbours are a bit weird – but this has a good ending.)

He added some water and grit powder, closed the can and switched on the motor that shook the container up. “Come back tomorrow” he told young Steve, which he did.

What the neighbour showed the young Steve then was how the old stones had been transformed. They were now highly polished and beautiful as a result of the friction of the stones bumping up and rubbing together.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-Yv-UdsmSo&w=640&h=480]

Jobs used this story as a metaphor; that leaders who embrace the process of ‘tumbling stones’, who are not afraid of diversity of thought and welcome other opinions, create a work culture that is better at problem solving, innovation and teamwork.

Living in our tribes will always have its challenges, what matters is to use the safety the tribe provides to weather the bumps and fights, and bring out the best of the individual members.

That’s what leads to continuing best performance.

Are you in the right tribe?

How do you ‘bump’ up and polish others and what have you learnt about yourself and them in the process?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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