Friction in the natural world is the resistance that occurs when one surface moves over another. Friction is highest when the two surfaces are moving in opposite directions.

While we often think friction is related to conflict or animosity, that’s not always the case. Sandpaper moving across a rough board is a great example of constructive or useful friction. Destructive friction occurs when the heat from that friction gets too high, and the rough board bursts into flames.

In business, friction points emerge when there is a clash of ideas, personalities, or cultures. They rub against each other and cause some discomfort. The question is whether or not the organization is able to channel that friction effectively.

Constructive friction transforms heat into innovation. Destructive friction occurs when there is too much focus on the differences between opinions, approaches, or individuals. The resulting strong emotions include anger, confusion, frustration, and just plain refusal to accept that other parties might be able to improve on the original approach.

The heat of friction increases with the intensity of need. That’s why it’s so important to proactively manage friction, before it gets out of control.