Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

E-Alerts: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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Reducing Friction And Delay in an Organization

It stands to reason that organizations and individuals within them can achieve goals more quickly and with less energy and effort if there is little friction or unnecessary delay.

Friction is whatever gets in the way of the flow, like anything or anyone rubbing against each other, causing conflict. Friction can be good or bad, and every organization has it. Friction can often be attributed to clashes of personalities or styles. It can lead to emotional responses rather than verbal ones. In that case, it is best to take the personality issues out of the situation and focus on objectives. Having no friction at all can have negative consequences as well, suggesting that no one is questioning what is being done or where they are heading.

Delay can be defined as adding time without value. Computer problems or disruptions are one example. Or a person with decision-making authority who has a slow, analytical style can lead to missed opportunities and can cost money.

Friction or delay or both may be caused when:

  • Not everyone in the firm sees management’s vision and what they are supposedly working toward;
  • There is no vision (too frequent a situation in professional firms);
  • Planning is poor or non-existent;
  • Decision-making criteria is poor;
  • Power is exerted in the wrong direction;
  • Employees feel no ownership in results or the vision;
  • Good processes are not in place;
  • People are not properly trained to do what is expected of them;
  • Resources and support systems are lacking.

So there is a disconnect.

Sometimes there is a lack of articulated priorities. If everything seems to be equally important – or that is the message that people get – how are they to know what absolutely must be done when everything can’t be accomplished in a given period of time? Leaders must set priorities and communicate them well.

Reducing friction and delay are important for a number of reasons, mostly obvious:

  • Inefficiencies cause significantly lower productivity. People create “workarounds” to get the job done
  • Management can spend tremendous energy and time dealing with the results of delay and friction without attacking the causes. This is very costly.
  • Toleration of friction and delay has a negative affect on morale and motivation.


To identify friction or delay, someone, as neutral as possible, has to ask curious questions such as:

  • What things are you aware of that dissatisfy your clients or colleagues and co-workers?
  • What factors and behaviors in the workplace are you “tolerating”?
  • What about the way things are done in your organization drives you crazy?
  • What takes time and energy away from your goals? The organization’s goals?
  • Are there things you think are wasting time?


In addition to asking questions, some observations provide valuable clues. Observe people as they do their work for bottlenecks and delays. Are there instances and processes where wasted effort and friction can be eliminated? What can be streamlined, or done in a better, smarter way?

How can a coach or consultant help?

If there is no qualified, available and neutral person resident in the organization to assist management in dealing with friction and delay, a consultant or coach can:

  • Help management quantify the cost of friction and delay to the business.
  • Help clarify the organization’s vision and direction.
  • Take not only the internal perspective, but also assess from the clients’ perspective expectations and requirements that will lead to friction. With inattention, clients can easily be lost to competitors.
  • Enable management to see that friction and delay has to be addressed continuously because business is dynamic. It is not a one-time project.
  • Help identify areas of delay and friction as a neutral person gathering data, interviewing and observing.
  • Help management focus on key issues rather than easy fixes that do not resolve problems. Tie it into the big picture.
  • Help the organization think bigger, resist limitations and take on new challenges.
  • Tie friction and delay into the toleration factor, and help management deal with things that shouldn’t be tolerated.
  • Help get the management team to buy into suggestions from employees on improvements and new processes.


Sometimes people just accept things, even owners and firm leaders. That is generally demoralizing. To keep a firm moving dynamically and prevent talented and desirable people from leaving, friction and delay must be addressed regularly.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot 2003.