Achieving Flow in the Workplace

Everyone wants things to flow in the workplace. But how about you, yourself? Have you ever had that experience of intensity where you’re so focused and everything is working just right and you feel unstoppable? Now imagine cultivating those kinds of experiences in the workplace on a regular basis. Proponents of flow claim companies can drive innovation, creativity, productivity, and morale just by helping employees get into the flow of things.

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Sounds a bit far-fetched, right? But it’s not. Think about high-performing athletes. For decades you’ve heard the best athletes talk about being in some kind of “zone” where everything clicks and happens almost effortlessly. That state of being is what has been termed “flow” as coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Csikszentmihalyi was fascinated by artists, especially painters, who seemed to literally “lose themselves” in their work. He identified what appear to be a number of essential components of flow or being “in the zone” as follows:

  • Intense, hyper-focus on the present moment.
  • Action and awareness merge.
  • The loss of reflective self-consciousness.
  • Feeling you are in control of a situation or activity.
  • An altered experience of time (lack of awareness of time passing).
  • The activity or experience feels intrinsically rewarding.
  • Feeling as if you can succeed.
  • Being so engrossed in the experience that other needs fade away.

When all of these elements come together at the same time, you’re in a state of flow. The idea is relatively new to the West, but has been around since ancient times in some of the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. But can these ideas be brought into the modern workplace? Many think they can and should be. As Kathryn Britton puts it, “Flow isn’t just valuable to individuals; it also contributes to organizational goals. Finding ways to increase the frequency of flow experiences can be one way for people to work together to increase the effectiveness of their workplaces” (source).

Adrain Tay, founder of the Ministry of Flow, has made it his personal mission to bring the concept of flow into workplaces everywhere. His approach is based on three fundamental concepts:

  1. Flow state and peak experiences in individuals and collective groups whose goals are aligned to that of the organization creates a culture of high-performance and empowerment.
  2. Almost anyone can get into flow.
  3. Breaking through and shifting self-limiting beliefs is one of the fundamental approaches to achieving flow.

So how would you go about helping people achieve flow in the workplace? Csikszentmihalyi has noted that three conditions have to come together at the same time:

  1. The activity or task you’re involved in has to have a clear set of goals and progress benchmarks to provide direction and structure.
  2. There has to be clear and immediate feedback to help you negotiate any changing demands and make adjustments to sustain the flow state.
  3. There must also be the right balance between the perceived challenges of the task or activity and your own perceived skills. You’ve got to have the confidence you can do the activity or task.

As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to translate these conditions into the workplace. Most of you already understand the need for clear goals, progress indicators, and frequent, timely feedback. Something that’s harder, however, is coming up with the time and space where people can really engage in the immersive, hyper-focused concentration needed to achieve a state of flow. Still, it wouldn’t be impossible, just challenging.

Perhaps even more challenging, however, is that tricky balance between the challenge and ability to do something. For an interesting discussion of this in the workplace environment, download the free white paper The Pygmalion Effect: How Leaders and Managers can Create a Virtuous Cycle of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.

Keep in mind that the whole notion of “multitasking” is a myth, and flies in the face of achieving flow. The brain can really only concentrate on one thing at a time. People who think they’re good at multitasking are really only very good at quickly switching from one task to the other. With a bit of care and attention, you could be helping your workforce achieve flow in the workplace, and begin reaping its many benefits.

December 8, 2015   Updated :November 16, 2016   flow, the zone, workplace productivity   

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