If you’re looking for next-level cooperation and collaboration within your team, Group Flow is definitely for you. Observed in top-performing sports teams and among world-class bands, this psychological phenomenon yields huge workplace benefits too. Today, we’re helping you to take your team to new heights, covering a topic inspired by our recent SaneBox webinar on enhancing a 2022 workplace.
Before we cover Group Flow, let’s make sure you’re aware of the basics of individual Flow.
This concept was studied and popularized by Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. SaneBox’s Dmitri describes Flow perfectly in the webinar, explaining it as “a state where you’re entirely focused on what you’re working on. Time slows down or ceases to exist; you’re in the zone.”
The chances are high that you’ve experienced Flow many times without realizing it had a name. Perhaps you were working on a particularly enjoyable project at work, only to realize it was 6 pm and you needed to leave. Maybe you were doing a jigsaw puzzle and became so absorbed you forgot dinner was on the cooker. Flow is often described as completely “effortless“, a state of complete connection with the activity you’re focused on. You’re fully absorbed and tuned in.
Dmitri describes in the webinar how Group Flow was first observed: jazz musicians. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that jazz is an improvisation-led music genre that needs a strong, coherent group dynamic to sound great. Group Flow refers to the connection that forms between the musicians as they play. It’s a space of complete trust and understanding, where it looks like the musicians have rehearsed the piece previously, but the magic is all in their awareness of and integration with each other.
Group Flow can occur in any team setting, not just on a jazz band’s stage. Just as individual Flow is effortless, Group Flow is the experience of easy unity as a team. As Dmitri explains, we love individual flow, but there’s something about group flow that’s extra special to us. Dmitri says that in a state of Group Flow, our brains experience a cocktail of “the best chemicals on Earth” for human beings. Again, hardly surprising given we’re such a social species!
Fortunately, there is plenty of research on how to create Group Flow, rather than just stumble across it. We’re highlighting some of our favorites below, but you’ll see even more mentioned in the SaneBox and TextExpander webinar, “The 2022 Workplace: Set Up Your Team for an Optimal Async Environment“.
This comes from another improvisational medium, but this time it’s not music, it’s comedy. For improv comics, a “Yes And” environment is critical to keeping a piece going. Their premise is simple: in any scenario, no matter how ridiculous the line your stage mate has just said, your goal is to go along with it. This is tricky because often a newbie comic’s first instinct is to say “No, stop!” and try to take control of the situation, but in improvisational comedy, everything you say should be the equivalent of “Yes, and…” to create a space of pure creativity.
A “Yes And” environment can be adapted for business, too. Especially beneficial to group conversations or brainstorming sessions, this mindset means that you’re never shutting down a colleague’s input. You see their ideas are valid and work to align with them, rather than dismissing and dominating them. It both requires and generates trust.
It might sound a little counterintuitive, but autonomy is integral to Group Flow. This is one of the aspects we love most about remote and asynchronous work by their nature, each creates independence. Each person should feel empowered, trusted, and supported, so that they can make decisions without constant oversight.
Besides working asynchronously and remotely, you can create autonomy by giving your team greater permission to make decisions. They could be larger, strategic decisions, or smaller day-to-day ones, but consider carefully where you can step back so that your team has space to move forward.
Often referred to as active listening, close listening is about hearing what’s been said and unsaid. It’s a skill that is beneficial in so many areas of life, including the workplace. Some of its basic principles are:
- In conversation, give non-verbal cues to confirm that you’re listening. Nod, maintain eye contact, and use open body language to demonstrate you’re paying close attention.
- Paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm you’ve understood the other person correctly.
- Stay open and non-judgmental in your responses.
- Notice what’s being implied as well as what’s said outright.
- Ask questions, especially open-ended questions.
Close listening means that each team member is in tune with each other. It creates an environment where understanding is prioritized and actively sought, a great environment for creativity.
As jazz musicians, the shared goal is to create beautiful music. For an elite basketball team, the shared goal is to win the match. With improv comics, the shared goal is to entertain the audience. In each case, that shared goal enhances Group Flow, as everybody knows their intended outcome.
For an organization’s team, a shared goal is just as necessary. Knowing the direction you are all headed allows your team to think together as a unit, so make sure that clear goals are obvious to all. Whether they are set annually, quarterly, monthly, or weekly, you should set a communal target that your team can rally around, so that they know what’s most important at any given time.
One of the TextExpander team was part of an experimental learning scheme at her high school. Her class was chosen for an innovative humanities project, which included many lessons on communication, emotional intelligence, and self-discipline.
There was a problem, though: her class was forever in trouble. Time and again, teachers grew frustrated that they were such a talkative group until finally, someone realized that the class wasn’t gossiping. They were applying the lessons they’d learned on communication and were talking to each other actively about their work. It explained why their grades were so decent, but their volume levels were louder than any other class in school.
Teachers aren’t the only leaders to make this mistake: many employers forget that conversations improve communication and familiarity, both of which are instrumental in creating Group Flow. For teams to reach peak performance, they have to be in active contact with each other, knowing that they can openly share whatever they need to. This not only improves problem-solving and productivity overall, it also allows greater bonds to be built within a team that knows one another well.
Watch our Webinar with SaneBox on the 2022 Workplace: Set Up Your Team for an Optimal Async Environment
If you haven’t already, we highly recommend watching our webinar with SaneBox that inspired this blog post. Group Flow is just one of the subjects that comes up in how to set up your asynchronous team for success, so do head over if you haven’t already!
- Flow is an individual state of peak performance, while Group Flow refers to a state of unified excellence within a team.
- Creating an environment where input is met with a “yes, and” style of communication enables trust and innovation.
- Autonomy is crucial, so make sure your team has some decision-making ability on a large and small scale.
- Shared goals ensure that a team has a united focus and sense of shared purpose.
- Open communication is needed to improve productivity and create familiarity.
- Watch the TextExpander webinar with SaneBox for more!
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