How Much Is Culture Friction Costing You?

In business, most of us will favor extremes, most of the time we are focusing on incredible companies, those who hold models of being the ultimate ideal business, such as Netflix, or Amazon. However, we also enrapture ourselves in horror stories.

We look at leaders who make terrible mistakes, costing shareholders massive sums of money, sometimes even everything.

However, as we go from looking at one to another, we miss the issue that costs companies even more in the long term. This issue is cultural friction.

What Is Culture Friction?

Cultural friction is something that occurs when an organization’s culture becomes aggressively unaligned with the behaviors which are known to help in feeding success.

How Much Is Culture Friction Costing You?
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Typically, this does not create massive, painstaking failure, and costs, it doesn’t create a glaring focus. However, cultural friction is often what causes teams to end up falling short of expectations.

You thought you would hit a target, but it ended up being a total projection mishap, and now you’re wondering why this happened.

Those issues in performance end up adding over the longer term, which is why it is such a massive and significant problem in workplaces that needs desperate attention.

How Does It Work?

In every organization, there is a culture (see also “Why You Should Put Culture First?“), and this culture will make it clear to employees which type of behavior is valued and which behavior is not. Some companies will be very clear when they communicate what they value.

This culture is there even for those who primarily ignore communicating it, even if they let it organically evolve, it drives behavior internally. Friction starts when these behaviors start to affect performance.

Some organizations will give out performance-based bonuses each year, it is fair and most tend to believe it works to motivate employees to do their best. However, this emphasis on individual performance can generate counterproductive behaviors.

Rewarding individuals can suffocate communication internally, especially when working in teams becomes important.

Teams who gain group-based rewards will email each other, work better as a team and work as a unit better than teams who gained rewards in individuality.

An Issue In Communication

A vast majority of modern companies will complain about the lack of internal communications, however, this itself could be part of the creation of a culture that sustains this problem. This is the perfect example of cultural friction.

All the efforts to solve the problem of less communication will fail unless it is addressed at another level of culture.

There is little point in sending memos or all-hands meetings to remind people why internal communication is so important, the issue of culture needs to be fixed, and this may mean needing to change the system of compensation.

Issues in culture friction are unlikely to make business headlines, however, culture friction in itself robs companies of the potential they have.

It is a lot like walking on a sidewalk that is moving backward: you will eventually make it to the other end, but only with effort that is completely unnecessary.

Friction Is High Cost

How Much Is Culture Friction Costing You?
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There are several signs that cultural friction is costing your company. These signs and symptoms in your company may include the following:

  • An overabundance of unnecessary meetings.
  • Too much “Corporate politics”.
  • Avoidable errors and delays.
  • Employee morale is low.
  • Employees are underperforming, even the best employees.
  • Despite financial discipline, cost tends to overrun.
  • ‘Poor customer service’ perception.
  • Legal bills are high.
  • Negotiations and vendor negotiations are unnecessarily long.
  • Innovation is very slow-paced.

These are all the costs of friction in the company culture. Friction is a simple resistance to the flow of energy, in scientific terms, which applies to workplaces. What tends to cause this resistance to the flow of energy? Here are some examples:

  • Leadership is weak, with little focus, integrity, commitment, and clarity.
  • Inadequate flow of information.
  • Poor/ non-existent communication.
  • Lack of focus or focus on the wrong places.
  • Weak accountability and control in the hierarchy.
  • Poor HR practices (little to no reviews, compensation, or selection).
  • Unproductive characteristics.
  • Lack of attention to feedback.
  • Little to no initiative.
  • Failure is not tolerated.

All of these factors involve human processes and are activities that require interaction within and outside of the organization. Some are bad behaviors, dishonest actions, or plain incompetence.

Creative Control

One of the issues found in many organizations that suffer from cultural friction is that many believe their employees are a labor resource, they’re to have every ounce of energy squeezed out of them to be productive.

The philosophy that comes with this form of management is often to provide employees with little information about tasks and duties, minimizing thinking and creativity.

This seems to stem from a fear that employees may divert their attention if allowed to think, and they may try something creative which would not be naturally in tune with the corporate fashion.

The Issue

The issue that this ends up creating is unmotivated, uninterested employees with a lack of enthusiasm who are unlikely to perform at their most productive.

Cultural friction can affect employee satisfaction and valuation which leads to a lack of job satisfaction. Little job satisfaction tends to lead to less productivity and less success in the company as a whole.

Any organization requires clear communication and information flow, when this is flawed, the company does not work well as a machine, and while losses are not obvious on a massive scale, they are still glaring and harmful in the long term.


Cultural friction in companies is not about internal conflicts (see also “Conflict Coaching: Beginners Guide“), it is an issue with the functioning of a company as a whole, and while it does not have detrimental effects, and won’t bankrupt a company, it is still very damaging to the long-term success of the company .

Cultural friction won’t cost you millions a year, but it will stop you from meeting projections.

Jason Sullivan
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