Superior teams—teams where employees are excited and engaged—know how to go with the flow. The flow we’re talking about is not mindless, carefree moments of allowing oneself to be pulled or pushed by circumstances like a piece of paper being blown to-and-fro in the wind. Flow is a state of awareness which was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is a state of complete absorption in one’s work, an absorption characterized by intense concentration, a feeling of being perfectly challenged (neither bored nor overwhelmed), and a sense that “time is flying.”
Flow is an intrinsically rewarding experience, and it can help management teams and hourly employees achieve organizational goals, meet and exceed mission objectives, serve customers heroically, enhance employee engagement, and improve skills such as leadership, giving positive feedback, and identifying performance gaps.
Anyone can experience ‘flow.’ It is inherent in creativity, work, study, exercise, and even play. We can become totally absorbed in any of these activities. Our level of concentration and focused awareness can become telescopic and laser-like. And when that happens, great things result—creative breakthroughs occur, solutions to nagging business problems appear, productivity snares are uncovered and eliminated, relationships become repaired and enriched.
Check your current experience against the eight distinct elements of flow identified by Csikszentmihalyi:
- There are clear goals every step of the way;
- There is immediate feedback to one’s actions;
- There is a balance between challenges and skills;
- Action and awareness are merged;
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness;
- There is no worry of failure;
- The sense of time becomes distorted;
- The activity becomes “autotelic” (an end in itself, done for its own sake).
One of the best ways we know to help employees to begin to feel comfortable with ‘getting into the flow’ is through what we call Indiana Jones experiences. We named it after the Indiana Jones adventure movies Harrison Ford starred in years ago. He was a college professor turned fortune hunter and the action was non-stop.
Our reason for suggesting Indiana Jones experiences for your people is that they are such good ‘flow’ rehearsals. Taking your people off line for a weekend of flow (we’ll be specific a little later in this blogcast) will help them experience how ‘flow’ feels in a non-work environment. They’ll build camaraderie, of course, and they’ll bond as a team. The pay-off is they’ll want to experience the same ‘feeling of flow’ at work as they experienced during their Indiana Jones outing.
Organize an adventure week-end. Invite colleagues who glow with challenge. Mobilize around a theme (risk-taking, communication, teamwork, decision-making, innovation, group synergy, etc.). Punctuate the experience with shared objectives and legitimate learning outcomes.
Hire professional help if the activity warrants it. Infuse the group with team spirit. Garnish the outing with a sense of mission. Include as many managers as you can in your Indiana Jones adventure. Invite key suppliers and/or customers to participate.
There are two types of Indiana Jones Adventures. One type involves true risk and adventure (only you know if your team is up for this! Check out your insurance policy before scheduling!). If this is your thing, we have found the following adventures to offer plenty of challenge (that’s putting it mildly—several have awesome transformative potential):
- White water rafting or canoeing,
- mountain climbing,
- fire walking,
- low and high element ropes courses,
- cross-country cycling,
- sky-diving (or the more tame, parachuting),
- hang gliding,
- moderate marathon hikes through rough terrain,
- cross-country skiing,
- team triathlon,
- scuba-diving for “lost treasure.”
If these activities are beyond the physical or emotional abilities of your team, there are other ways to get a similar effect. Try the second type of Indiana Jones Adventure, which focuses on low impact adventure. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Schedule your weekly team meeting in a totally different location,
- Plan an off-site retreat that includes low-risk, high-stretch events, such as blindfold trust walks or spider web challenges,
- Participate in an Improvisational Theater Games event,
- Work as a team in a charity event in the community,
- Conduct an entire meeting without any verbal speaking.
You get the idea! Whether you go for the extreme sports, or simply spend time in an unusual setting, be sure to spend some quality time debriefing the experiences, using them as metaphors for how you work together back on the job. Here is a great article with tips to help you debrief with power.
Get your team engaged and “in the flow” by treating them to an Indiana Jones event. Experience the thrill of victory and the agony of d’tired feet. Leave inhibitions behind. Take a keen sense of adventure. If you opt for extreme, consult with family doctors before you go. Expect the unexpected and be open to the flow! And if you see Indiana Jones in your travels, tell him we said hi.
(Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.