An Event Apart: “Navigating Team Friction”

Lara Hogan speaking at An Event Apart Seattle 2018 on April 3, 2018.

Friction is a common, and necessary, part of team growth–but when left unchecked, team friction is unhealthy for you, your coworkers, your company, and ultimately your end users. In this engaging talk, Lara will draw on her experiences at organizations large and small to illuminate the sources of team tension, how you can better understand and manage unexpected teammate reactions, and the best ways to give actionable feedback without escalating drama. You’ll walk away with tactics you can employ immediately to address and improve your relationship with your teammates. Your coworkers, your organization, your users, and you will reap the benefits.


  • Bruce Tuckman’s four stages that groups of people go through:
    • Forming — When a group comes together in a new state
    • Storming — When we start to see some friction
    • Norming — When things start to iron things out
    • Performing — The flow stage, you are effective
  • Storming = friction
  • Generally friction is a necessary part of team growth
  • Team friction impacts your coworkers, company, and users
  • Why not wait for a manager?
    • It can take a while before a manager can see the friction
  • 4 topics:
    • Brains
    • Communication
    • Feedback
    • Prevention
  • Brain chemistry
    • Amygdala hijacking — When we feel danger, the rational part of our brain is shut down
    • 6 core needs (BICEPS):
      • Belonging — community, connection
      • Improvement/progress — progress towards purpose, improving the lives of others
      • Choice — flexibility, autonomy, decision-making
      • Equality/fairness — access to resources & info, equal reciprocity
      • Predictability — resources, time, direction, future challenges
      • Significance — status, visibility, recognition
    • Forms of resistance can be data
    • Most common responses when a threat is detected:
      1. Doubt
      2. Avoid
      3. Fight
      4. Bond — find others who agree with them
      5. Escape-route — looking for a new job
    • Process:
      • Spot some resistance
        • Ask open questions
          • What do you think folks are liking + disliking about it so far?
          • I wanted to get your take on X. What could go wrong? What do you think might be good about it?
          • What feels most upsetting about this?
      • Map to core need(s)
        • Mention it to your manager
      • Address core need(s)
  • The magic of communication style
    • Reflect on the dynamics in the room
      • Be aware of your medium
      • Consider the room’s power dynamics
      • Is this person in a position to take the action I’m suggesting?
    • Elevate the conversation
      • Meet transparency with responsibility
    • Assume best intentions
      • Practice empathy
    • Listen to learn
      • Prepare to be surprised
  • Give feedback
    • Humans are bad at feedback
    • We can get better at giving and receiving feedback
    • Good feedback is specific and actionable
    • What we crave is feedback that will help us grow
    • Feedback equation
      • observation of a behavior + impact of that behavior + question or request
    • Ask about their preferred feedback medium
  • Prevention
    • Bake it into team processes
    • Retrospectives
    • Team charters and docs
    • What if you disagree with what management says?
    • Practice finding other ways to address BICEPS
    • Bring in leadership or HR — State what’s been tried, and what you think
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