I love the simplicity and power of formulae. And having worked with several hundred teams, observing patterns, I have identified a simple but powerful formula that goes a long way to explain why some teams are able to harness their collective intelligence more so than others.  

This formula is:  

Trust + Tension = Traction 

In today’s competitive business environment, a critical goal for any team is to make speedy progress on what matters most. And that’s what the word “Traction” means in this context i.e. about getting momentum on important business content. 

However, in order to achieve the desired traction, we need to unpack the two vital ingredients that help create it – Trust and Tension.  


Trust is a BIG word and subject…in fact when you type “Trust” on you get more than 2 million entries!

To simplify this, I refer to Trust, first and foremost as a feeling within a team  – a feeling along the lines of: 

  • I can be myself at all times 
  • I can speak my mind freely – about the good, the bad and even the ugly! (both about myself and business content) 
  • I am not disrespected, judged or punished for speaking my mind  

So how do you build deep trust in your team? Please refer to my earlier blog on this:   

Tension (the good type!)

For true transformation to occur, there needs to be some heat – or tension within a team. 

However, tension can either be good tension or bad tension. Bad tension is about unnecessary inter-personal friction founded in false, fact-less and unexplored judgements about each other! And we obviously want to eliminate this as much as possible. 

Instead we want Good tension in teams, which is about strengthening the team’s muscles to: 

  • Put “everything” on the table (including facts, feelings, elephants, feel-scared-to-raise-this stuff etc) 
  • Seek out and listen to diverse views with an open, curious and learning mind-set  
  • Stay present and patient in the realms of uncertainty rather than seeking pre-mature closure and/or confusing activity with progress   

So how do you create good tension? It all starts with creating the right conditions for high quality conversations. Please refer to my previous blog on this: 

Within a team, when you have high trust and you can tap into constructive tension, you can create synergistic solutions, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e.  1+1 > 3, or 10 or 100!)