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What Is Frictionless Work?

Creating a Workplace Culture That Is Friction Free

Your corporate culture is important. If you are tired of endless emails, unproductive meetings, and jargon-filled memos, it is likely your employees are too. As a leader, you set the tone.

If you are tired of work processes that are not productive, you are not alone according to organisational behaviour experts Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in the United States.

In their new book "The Friction Project: How Smart Leaders Make the Right Things Easier and the Wrong Things Harder" Sutton and Rao offer a toolbox for identifying and removing these "forces that make it harder, slower, more complicated, or downright impossible to get things done."

The Book Offers Five "Friction Fixers"

  • Less is More: Resist the urge to add complexity. Remember, "addition bias" can make us think piling on meetings or roles is progress. Instead, seek opportunities to "subtract." Challenge yourself with "the rule of halves": think through how you could reduce something (like a meeting) by 50% and only add back what is truly essential.
  • Respect Everyone's Time: Great friction fixers consider the value of others' time. The book shares an inspiring example from an unexpected source: the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Here, a friendly employee proactively offered forms and pens, enabling people to finish tasks outside the queue, significantly reducing wait times.
  • Ditch the Jargon: Complex language is confusing. Take "Holacracy," a management framework riddled with phrases like "A Role may link into another Circle if a Policy of that other Circle or any Super-Circle thereof invites it." Instead, the experts recommend clear, concrete language, using sensory metaphors and present tense for better understanding.
  • Embrace Slowness: Not all friction is bad. Sometimes, slowing down encourages better outcomes. For creative work, "teams need to slow down, struggle, and develop a lot of bad ideas to find a rare good one," say the authors. After launching a project, engage in "imaginary time travel": create "previctorems" outlining potential successes and "premortems" speculating on failures. This proactive approach helps navigate challenges.
  • Everyone Can Be a Fixer: Friction elimination is a collaborative effort. Consider Hawaii Pacific Health's "Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff (GROSS)" campaign. Initiated by a chief medical officer, it was driven by doctors and nurses who identified time-wasting tasks, like a single mouse click consuming 1,700 nurse hours monthly. While leaders set the tone, everyone can contribute to a smoother workflow.

By following these suggestions, you can become a true friction fixer, creating a more efficient, productive, and, happier workplace.

Remember, even small changes can have a significant impact, so start to implement incremental changes and make your corporate culture a place where things get done—easily.

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