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For Business
December 5, 2013

What is team flow?

Does it feel as though some days, everything you do is just a little bit easier? You’re productive, engaged, confident and operating at your full potential. That experience of hitting your stride is known as flow, and we’d like to help you make flowing easier.

The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi first outlined the concept of flow in 1990, suggesting that in a flow state:

  • You’re challenged – the task you’re attempting isn’t too difficult, but it’s not so simple that you get bored.
  • You give your whole attention – there are no distractions and you’re giving the task the concentration it requires.
  • You have clear goals – you know what your goal is and keep track of your progress towards it.
  • You get immediate feedback – you know instantly whether or not you’ve hit your goal.
  • You feel totally immersed – you feel deeply, effortlessly involved in what you’re doing and removed from any worries or frustrations.
  • You have control of your actions – you actively make choices about what you’re doing.
  • You lose yourself – you lose any self-consciousness or the lack of self-confidence that might come with it.
  • You feel time pass differently – during the task, it feels as though time stands still, but afterwards, you’re not sure where the time went.

Csíkszentmihályi certainly uses the word ‘you’ a great deal, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t recognise the potential for something larger and more powerful in the business world – we’re talking about team flow.

The problem with focusing solely on individual flow is that it puts the onus on you to change your behaviour, innovate and succeed alone, when the truth is that high performance is more likely to be the result of collaboration and being a part of a team that flows.

When a team is in flow, it’s innovative, harmonious and productive. Being part of it improves the performance of each member. Communication is purposeful and clear. Friction is seen as an opportunity, not a personal threat. Location and time zones pose no barriers. The balance is just right, and everything flows.

Csíkszentmihályi characterised group flow with five Cs:

  1. Clarity – knowing what’s expected of you.
  2. Centering – knowing that your teammates are interested in what you’re doing.
  3. Choice – knowing that you have options.
  4. Commitment – a sense of trust in your team that lets you feel unselfconscious.
  5. Challenge – increasingly complex challenges to tackle

These five Cs are the principle pillars that support any flowing team, and help them maintain that flow for longer.

The key is to foster an environment in which every team-member can become the best possible version of themselves, as the team grows to become even stronger than the sum of its parts.

Over the coming weeks we’re going to bring you articles getting to the root of team flow, the five Cs, and the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology. Be sure to check back for more soon, and if you’d like to read more about team flow in the meantime, why not take a look at our free Teams That Flow ebook? You can download it here.

Does your team flow? What helps (or hinders) your team in reaching peak performance?