Article summary:
  • Extract from
  • In teams, peak experiences can be contagious and lead to great business outcomes. This is especially true when team members begin to achieve their ‘highs’ simultaneously. Such simultaneous highs can be termed as being in the ‘Flow’.?
  • When in Flow, actions can become effortless and people often recount them as stand out moments of work.?
  • Flow Theory was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago.?
  • The eight essential factors that lead to an enjoyable flow experience are given.?
Apply your learnings from this article to:
  • Inspire and motivate your team to higher levels of performance and achievement through the Flow state.?
  • Assess yourself against the eight essential factors for Flow. Ask yourself, what more can I do to facilitate Flow in our business?

Ready, Set, Flow!

“The conditions under which accelerated team formation and knowledge creation occur are similar to the condition known as ‘flow’. At the same time, people report experiences such as ‘being in the groove’, ’switched on’ or having ‘aha’ moments.

In the world of the group or team, peak personal experiences can be contagious, especially when the members begin to achieve their ‘highs’ simultaneously.

The orchestra plays music so brilliantly that the audience and musicians are transported. The football or netball team plays as if every move was perfectly choreographed and the crowd joins in too. The school teacher has a classroom in which every learner is so engaged that they participate in Multiplayer Maths problems for hours and do not notice time passing. The strategy team reaches agreement without a fight, sensing the needs of the others, creating a world in which all can join in equally. These teams all behave as if they were a single organism.”


Flow Theory

Flow Theory was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the former Chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He devoted his life’s work to the study of what makes people truly happy, satisfied and fulfilled and what makes them bored and anxious.

During the flow experience, your whole body, mind and consciousness become ordered and harmoniously directed. When you are in flow, everyday experience becomes a moment-by-moment opportunity for joy and self-fulfilment. Feelings of chaos, indecision and anxiety disappear. Self-consciousness and worries recede. You have a single goal.

In these exceptional moments, whatever one does becomes worth doing for its own sake: living becomes its own justification. In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own.

The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as ‘being in the zone’, religious mystics as being in ‘ecstasy’, artists and musicians as ‘aesthetic rapture’. All do very different things when they reach flow, yet their descriptions of the experience are remarkably similar.

The eight essential factors that lead to an enjoyable flow experience are:
  1. A clear goal
  2. Feedback
  3. Challenges which just exceed skills
  4. Concentration and Focus
  5. Control
  6. Loss of self consciousness
  7. Transformation of time
  8. Activity which is its own justification
Compare the conditions of flow with Schein’s conditions of effective Teamwork:
  1. A shared common focus
  2. Everyone is able to contribute and is ‘listened to’ equally
  3. Feelings are freely expressed
  4. All aspects of issues are canvassed
  5. No single person is relied upon to make decisions
  6. People are extremely candid
  7. People become very creative and open to new ideas
  8. Activity seems effortless

There are many overlaps between Csikszentmihalyi and Schein, especially the clear and common focus on the activity and being open to feedback. Teamwork may simply be a state of consciousness that can only be achieved, like flow, under optimum conditions.

The important thing for you as a leader is to create these conditions for flow. What can you plan today? Go beyond your previous thinking, write down ideas and make plans to facilitate Flow.


The above is an extract from: On-line facilitation course and user manual for applications based on Zingthing 3.6, Zing Technologies Pty. Ltd. Eveleigh, Australia, viewed on 12 August 2009.