5 Tips to Finding Your Team Flow

Every manager should strive to put their team in a flow state.

Have you ever been in that moment when everything seems to be going perfectly? You could be playing tennis and you know where the ball is going before your opponent actually hits it. Or you are working on that next article for INC and the words just seem to pour out of the keyboard.

Most of now know that as being in a “flow state”. Writer and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered the concept of flow states. I first came to the idea through he book, The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler (thanks Scott Barstow). This book is a must read for those of you who want to understand both the psychology and biology and furthermore strive to put themselves in a flow state to achieve their goals.

Athletes used to call this being in the zone. Other may refer to being hyper-focused. There are also historical examples in Hindu, Taoism and Buddhism teachings.

Csikszentmihalya defines flow state as being completely present and fully immersed in a task. Sounds easy enough, right? If you can find a flow state individually – good for you. You know the power that emanates from being in the place.

But as a manager, I strive to find team flow state.

Obviously this is imminently more difficult. Here are 5 simple organizing principles for getting your team into a healthy and productive position:

  1. Set Clear Goals. The foundation of every management technique is setting clear goals but you would be surprised to find that many managers assume that everyone knows what they should be working on. Don’t assume! My trick is to use a whiteboard to outline (for all to see) what the goals are.
  2. Outline Simple Tasks. Again, it may seem obvious, but the tasks should 100% support the goals stated above. The entire team needs to see the tasks for each team member so that it is implicitly understood how your tasks support the overall team goals. There are many tools available with this in mind (Trello, Basecamp, etc.). My trick is to use daily or every other day stand-up meeting where each team member shares three things:
    1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
    2. What am I going to accomplish today?
    3. What is standing in my way of achieving that task.
  3. Access To Timely Feedback. One of the flow killers is not knowing if the completion of my task fits the needs of the team. In that moment where you are wondering what you are doing – you fall out of flow and the team productivity grinds to a halt. My trick is to create feedback sessions (like a stand up) 2x per day. This provides everyone a chance to get some feedback on their activity.
  4. Ability and Skills to Complete Task. Everyone likes to be challenged but there are limits. Outlining tasks that are too far outside of a person’s skillset is a recipe for problems. When you are setting the team goals and outlining the tasks for everyone, you should take an honest assessment of the team and individual abilities to complete the task. Tip: build an open and transparent team and this assessment can be done as a team and not behind your office door.
  5. Strong Team Support. I love building great teams. My team members are individually smarter than me. My task is simple; give them the tools and a platform for them to maximize their productivity. One of the critical elements of this is for each team member to respect each other. When I first became a venture capitalist in the late 90’s, the cross-team respect and support became the key element I looked for. It was obvious which organizations were fighting for product control and which organizations had a platform in place for strong team support. You alone as a manager set that tone.

Finding a team flow state is the hallmark of a great manager. Achieving team flow state will create serious success in your business.

This article first appeared in INC.COM – find more of my articles there.

Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. One of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory (35 investments across 7 cohorts), founder and MC of the Big Top Reverse Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities. Currently EIR @ Techstars with Brad Feld ~ Startup Communities, to help community leaders around the world grow their startup community.

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