4 Tips to Create Healthy Tension in the Office

Achieving a "healthy tension" within your office is a tough balancing act, but it's essential to creating a great work environment that produces great work.

One of our core goals at Launchpad is to build a workplace that people like coming to every day, and to be an agency clients like working with. But sometimes, too much good will can get in the way of delivering great work. In any business, getting the best results requires that everyone hold each other accountable. This healthy tension is essential – yet often people can be too polite to say what needs to be said.

Of course, creating healthy tension while maintaining a harmonious workplace is a delicate balancing act. Here are a few strategies that are helping us pull it off.

1. Make the standards high, and simple

It’s important that you define what you are about as a company, and then articulate it in a way that is memorable and sets an easily defined metric for success. Forget the long-winded, 10-sentence mission statement. What’s the one thing that clearly defines both what you are about and how your employees can deliver on it? For us, it’s very simple. Do what’s right. That means pushing ourselves, our clients and each other to make sure we’ve delivered the best solution in the best way possible.

2. Push back when people don’t push back

It’s always easy to recognize the person who doesn’t sufficiently think something through, but what about the person who took poor input, knowing it wasn’t great, and ran with it anyway? It’s important to hold that individual just as accountable, because their output will only be as good as what they had to work with. Failure to ask questions and push back early in the process inevitably results in poor output and lost time.

3. Ask questions rather than giving answers

Often, people do things without really knowing why. When they do, it is almost always easier to simply correct that person and move on, but that only leads to the same troubling dynamic occurring over and over. Instead, ask everyone involved to explain the meaning behind what they’ve done, and to explain the input they got before doing their work. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but people quickly learn that I expect them to fully understand what’s been asked of them and why they are doing it.

4. Demand engagement

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but how can people work side-by-side, eat lunch together, bump into each other all day long in the halls–yet never ask each other questions about a project their both working on. I’m astonished at how many times I ask very smart people, “Did you talk with so-and-so?” when there’s a problem, and they say, “No, I haven’t.” If you’re hearing the same thing, force your teams to get out of their comfort zone and talk through issues one-on-one, even if it’s over coffee or a beer. If you’ve surrounded yourself with nice people as we have, they’ll not only talk through what is bothering them. That’s the first step to creating work that rises to meet those high standards you set.