Reducing friction

Reducing friction

If you leave a boat in seawater for too long, barnacles will start attaching and growing. They glue themselves to the hull of your boat with a glue six times stronger than any human-made adhesive.

As those barnacles accumulate they start to have an effect. It’s not immediately obvious but it’s a gradual impact that creeps up.

The barnacles increase friction on the boat’s hull, reducing the speed it can achieve. They increase fuel consumption because of that friction. It’s more expensive to run the boat. And in the longer term they cause corrosion of the hull, damaging the boat itself.

Savvy boat owners know this. They clean the hull often. They apply anti-fouling paint to reduce the build-up of the pernicious little barnacles.

Scaling organisations aren’t all that different to boats accumulating barnacles. Friction is something scaling businesses need to think about.

Friction exists in every organisation. It’s a particular problem for businesses that are scaling at pace. That’s because what makes up an effective business changes over time.

Friction in scaling businesses acts as a drag. It’s an invisible force that holds back businesses from growing as fast as they could. It stops them thriving as healthy, sustainable organisations.

There are two sources of friction in your business:

  1. Friction caused by things you do already that don’t work as well as they need to. Many old practices won’t be fit for purpose on the scaling journey.
    —> the answer is often to stop doing those things completely or work hard to iterate them.
  2. Friction caused by things that are missing from your scaling business. With growth comes a need for new things that you may not have seen before to help keep the organisation running smoothly.
    —> this friction is usually solved by introducing a new initiative or practice  that’s not been needed before.

Decision makers need to deliberately challenge aspects of the organisation’s past. They must also systematically plan and put in place what’s needs to be better for the future of the business.

Or another way of looking at it…they need to take time to scrape off the barnacles and apply the anti-fouling paint regularly. Beyond deeply held values, beliefs and purpose, very little lasts for ever in a rapid growth business.

A longer version of this article originally appeared in my email newsletter for founders and CEOsBuild. It features insights, techniques & thinking for those navigating the ups-and-downs of the scaling journey and developing their own leadership.


I work with technology-centric businesses as an interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO), interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I also write a newsletter called Build about scaling brilliant businesses which you can subscribe to here.