In life and at work, things happen all the time. There's tension. We can’t always choose what happens, but how we react to whatever is happening, the tension, is our choice. First, there is stimulus (a nail in your foot or a business opportunity) that draws your attention. Then you assess the situation in order to understand what's going on (the nail is rusty, and it hurts a lot, or the business opportunity would position us firmly against our competition if executed on). Third, you consider what the desired position would be (no nail in the foot or market leader). Lastly, you go ahead and execute, closing the gap between current and desired position. The loop is closed, and the tension is dissolved.
When we build a self-governing organisation, everything we do is this – stimulus, observation, defining the gap and responding to close the gap. Note that a tension can be both positive and negative – either an opportunity or a problem. Or both. Simply put, it's a gap that we want to close. The better we become at this, the more effective and efficient we become in closing the gaps, the more successful we will become. Closing the gaps in the right way quickly is therefore super-duper important!
The first step is to sense which tensions are alive in this very moment. This is usually done on the fly by one person but can also be done together in a so called "tension mapping" exercise where we get every current tension up on the table (or whiteboard) and then prioritise which ones to move on with. The latter is usually a good thing to do when starting up a project, whereas sensing the tension and then doing something about it is usually how we go about it in everyday work.