Group flow

Is there anything better than the feeling you get when you’re “in the zone”?

Although I imagine that some of you can think of a few, here’s one: the feeling you get when you and your TEAMMATES are in the zone.

Whereas flow is powerful, productive, and pleasurable, social flow adds another whole other dimension to the experience. With individual flow, you lose your sense of self-consciousness and your awareness of time. With social flow, you and your colleagues operate as one and time becomes irrelevant, even if you’re operating under a strict deadline.

Although most of us think of social flow as a phenomenon limited to sports, the fact is that it’s even more common in the workplace.

Given the often elusive nature of individual flow, what are the conditions that encourage social flow? There are four of them: focus, flexibility, collaboration, and cost.

Focus means just what it sounds like. You can’t achieve flow if you’re dogged by distractions. If you have a clear goal, distractions diminish and concentration becomes easier.

Flexibility is one of the things that distinguishes social flow from individual flow. Remember: you’re operating as a team. Build on the moves and ideas of others instead of rejecting them outright. Keep your ego in check.

Collaboration gets to the heart of social flow. The best teams are familiar enough with each other to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that they grow complacent. Diverse ideas and multiple perspectives don’t discourage social flow; they contribute to it.

And finally, there’s the question of cost. Whether individually or collectively, flow is more likely when you’ve actually got something to lose. That’s why a team of surgeons engaged in a difficult operation are more likely to experience social flow than they would if the surgery were routine, and why startups often experience more social flow than teams at well-established companies.