Getting to Flow


It happens when we’re in the zone. We lose track of time. Everything unfolds with a measure of grace. Nirvana. Bliss.

And we so feel totally absorbed in what we are doing.

Friggin’ awesome, isn’t it?

I think of all the business meetings I have attended that never “got to flow.” They didn’t get there because the meeting leader did not know how to create the conditions for flow. And my little inner voice keeps hearing the wisdom of flow-master-extraordinaire, psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi:

When all of a person’s relevant skills are needed to cope with the challenges of a situation, that person’s attention is completely absorbed by the activity. There is no excess psychic energy left over to process any information but what the activity offers.As a result, one of the most universal and distinctive features of optimal experience takes place: People become so involved in what they are doing that the activity becomes spontaneous, almost automatic; they stop being aware of themselves as being separate from the actions they are performing.  (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience).

I love the last sentence. It is such a perfect description of full engagement. And I cherish all the implications of this quote:

  1. The flow experience isn’t just a lucky accident.

  2. We don’t get to flow by being passive.

  3. A state of flow occurs because we fiercely summon all our relevant skills.

How do I help my team get to flow?

Commit to the following 4 action items, and you will start to activate flow in your team. Guaranteed.

1. Expect Engagement.

Make full, active engagement a group norm. Expect nothing less. Call out the individuals who do not fully engage.

And let go of any rigid attachment to agendas. Agendas beget order. They do not beget flow.

2. Shift out of Neutral.

Urge folks to have a point of view. Invite multiple points of view. Play devil’s advocate if you need to. Model what it means to have a point of view.

Above all, do not settle for neutral. Neutral inhibits forward-moving velocity.

3. Remix Conversation Structures.  

Get away from your standard meeting format – a bunch of folks sitting around a table, talking. It invariably translates into a few key people pontificating.

Mix it up. Have quick paired chats. Small buzz groups with separate topics. Break-out chats with report-backs. These structures demand engagement!

4. Get Physical.

Stand up. Congregate at flip charts and whiteboards. Rotate to different spaces in your environment. Get the conversation into your bodies. Whole-body involvement energizes us and heightens mental engagement.