The Paradox of Change
Evolution, Not Revolution, Powers Innovation and Change

Tension vs. Stress and How to Eliminate One to Avoid the Other

Stress free zone 42646457_sI am reading Brian J Robertson's  book "Holacracy".  As I do it has dawned on me that the reason why command and control management has not been buried – despite longstanding claims that it is dead – is because we have not yet found a model that replaces our hierarchical structures. I know that is rather an embarrassing admission to have to make, but the truth is I had never consciously thought about it in such simple terms before, despite all my efforts to help inter it. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to reflect on why that has been the case and to develop new ideas that will further the cause. 

One of the thought-provoking ideas is the idea of tension, and particularly the point that “the gap between how things are and how things could be, creates tension.” An immediate mental correlation between tension and stress prompted me to refer to my trusty Webster’s Dictionary. This defined tension in part as, “1. Act of stretching or tensing; state or degree of being strained to stiffness. 2. a) Mental strain; intensity of striving. b) Nervous anxiety, with attendant muscular stiffness. c) A strained condition of relations.”  This appeared to justify my linking of the two words, reinforced by the definition of stress as, “1. Pressure; strain esp. intense strain. 2. Intense effort; strained exertion.” For me they imply cause and effect, with tension causing stress, something Robertson also identifies by referring to the Latin root of the word tension being “to stretch” and the metaphor of a rubber band.

My attention was held, however, by the human implications of this and their correlation with his starting premise. If tension causes stress and stress is a chronic ‘disease’ in our lives, it logically follows that we need to reduce tension as the cause of stress. Furthermore, when you factor in that we spend almost half our waking life at work, it seems equally logical that a large proportion of our stress is work-related. Therefore it follows that, if the gap between how things are and how things could be creates tension, we can reduce that tension by closing that gap.

Now that may appear naively idealistic. Yet, in a work context, the gap between how things are and how they could be, is highly likely to be caused by the factors that inhibit us from doing our jobs more effectively. They could be such things as:-

  • Rigid rules
  • Dependency on others
  • Delays caused by events outside your direct control
  • Changing priorities
  • Etc. The list is virtually endless.

Ultimately, however, they are all likely rooted in your hierarchical structures and the inter-dependencies they Hierarchy image 54358757_s creates, with their inherent inefficiencies. Robertson draws the analogy of the body having to wait for formal permission from the conscious mind to produce adrenaline during a crisis. Every individual who is unable to do their job to the potential they could or ought to, impacts others in the organisation. This creates a snowball effect that has a compounding, negative effect on organisational performance and hence on its results.

That makes finding an alternative to hierarchy imperative. It is the only practical way to eliminate the root cause of so much tension. I look forward to reading more and finding out how Holacracy provides a solution and to what extent it recognises the principle: Every individual matters!


If you like what you have read contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model can provide the catalyst to help you create an organisational culture of ‘Love at Work’ : one where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, so embracing change and transforming – and sustaining – organisational performance.


Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.


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