How Organizational Friction Kills Scalability

F-18 breaking the sound barrier

A lot of businesses have great ideas and strategies, but somehow they cannot break the scalability ceiling to make a dent in their markets.

A good analogy to designing your organization for scalability is the way aircraft are designed to cross the sound barrier. The faster you go, the harder it is go faster still — that’s the tricky science that makes it so difficult to break speed records in planes.

Push your jet plane through the sound barrier and huge, cone-shaped shock waves form at the nose and the tail, where they can greatly increase drag. That’s why supersonic (faster-than-sound) jet planes have sharp noses and sharp, swept-back wings.

Friction has a habit of building up unobserved. It’s not a problem when acceleration is moderate, as you have time to observe and learn. But when you suddenly experience high acceleration, the business will exhibit severe disturbances to the point where you can lose control.

Like when an airplane approaches the speed of sound, it approaches this invisible pressure barrier set up by the sound waves just ahead of the plane resulting in the compressed air in front of the plane, exerting a much larger than usual force on the plane.

The early designs of fighter aircraft did not anticipate the problems one would have when approaching the sound barrier. Most infamously, in the Mitsubishi Zero, pilots flew full power into the terrain because the rapidly increasing forces acting on the control surfaces of their aircraft overpowered them.

Mitsubishi Zero

Like early aircraft designers could not anticipate the problems until they learned through trial and error, one will not be able to anticipate the problems to be faced when growth suddenly accelerates unless you devise a way to measure friction, and thus learn and act to remove friction in a systematic way through good organizational design. In the end, your organizational design will determine if you will be able to cross the scalability barrier.

The key to reducing friction is to make it highly visible. This means that first, you need to measure it. And to measure it you need to create the right metrics.

Learn more in Measuring Organizational Friction with Organizational Bugs

Eric Kish as an author, speaker and practicing CEO. He is the author of 5 to 50 to 500: How to build and run scalable organizations and Everyday Turnaround: The art and science of daily business transformation

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Eric Kish

Eric Kish

Practical CEO, Author and Speaker