What is Healthy Tension?

What is Healthy Tension?

Many organizations fail to walk their talk.  They have core values like TEAMWORK, COMMUNICATION, INNOVATION and RESPECT that they put on their website, talk about at team meetings, and display on the walls of their building; yet if you were to walk down the hallways of those same buildings, the culture and behaviours that exist on a day to day basis are often the exact opposite of those values.

Why?  Because these organizations, and the leaders and teams within them, are mistakenly treating every challenge they face as if it was a problem to be solved, when in fact, many of the challenges they face are tensions to be managed.

Tensions are also referred to as polarities*, dilemmas, conflicting values, or chronic issues.  You know you are dealing with a tension to manage when you have two values that cannot be separated over time.  Think of breathing; we cannot wake up in the morning and choose to inhale OR exhale.  Instead, our body must learn to find ongoing, healthy tension between inhaling AND exhaling.


Top 20 Organizational and Leadership Tensions


The same is true with many unavoidable tensions that leaders and organizations face.  If they mistakenly choose one side of the tension to the neglect of the other, it is as futile as trying to inhale and hold it.  It will not work.  And when organizations get stuck in this Either/Or trap, they inevitably fail to live out their values or walk their talk.

“Companies which are built to last do not accept the The Tyranny of the OR but instead embrace The Genius of the AND.” Jim Collins, Good to Great

The great news is that these tensions can be leveraged for a competitive advantage.  By identifying, assessing and proactively managing key tensions in a healthy way, leaders, teams and organizations outperform anyone around them.  They tap into the power of healthy tension!

(*Thanks to Dr. Barry Johnson and Polarity Partnerships)

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