Last year we worked with a nonprofit group that specifically hired new college grads for projects involving water management and watershed programs, including working papers as well as providing free research data to neighboring communities. As the project groups were not co-located, they engaged us to help each project team find their best ‘work summit window’; otherwise known as the ‘flow’. What is a flow zone or state?

The flow state has been described by the world’s greatest thinkers as the most industrious and innovative state of mind in which to operate. Additionally, positive psychologists such as, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., reason that achieving the flow state on a regular basis is a key component of harmony. In other words, learning how to enter the flow state you, or a team, can increase productivity, be more ingenious; and, be in higher spirits.

As we were helping teams of people achieve their project goals, here are the directives we provided for each group (you can achieve the same results on an individual level using these same procedures):

• Teams review their original understanding of deliverables, and dates, to reassign tasks or pursue an entirely new direction. They determine what elements still have value and what facets need to change to present a new structure to the senior board or governing body. They do not use blame behavior or finger pointing in their assessments knowing that it is not a respectable use of energy. They have conversations that will be used for execution, not produce resignation.
• Teams should establish rules for eliminating distractions while engaged in the project. They often review the goals of the project before they begin the work at hand and reach agreement on how they will maintain concentration. Agreement can also include how emergencies or family incidents will be handled during the work period.
• Team leaders need to be flexible in analyzing the exact situation, now. They do not give in to the weakness of becoming angry about the current situation. They know that a positive presence is required to motivate the team to produce what was previously thought to be unfeasible. They monitor the emotional state of the working members engaging in physical breaks when necessary such as, quick walks around the parking lot or a quick set of deep knee bends to relieve sluggishness.
• Teams evaluate available resources and stabilize the effects of any vendors that may have not renewed contracts for supplies. They sometimes leave convention behind, using innovative thinking to address the current conditions. Often, innocent statements of the problem put folks into a creative space where no flawless solutions are presented, but a combination of thought that could be the steps to achievement. Think how our everyday world would be without WD-40. Norm Larsen originally designed it to repel water (water displacement) and prevent corrosion. Later it was found to have numerous household uses. Larsen was attempting to create a formula to prevent corrosion in nuclear missiles, by displacing standing water. Its name came from the first 39 formulas that were failures. Hence, WD-40.
• Working teams do not allow others to drain energy from their targeted goals. They recognize that collective negative moods can be ‘catching’; and, they do not allow themselves to become passive victims of negative moods. Also, they do not engage in adversarial conversations. They know that dialogues such as these only cause others to become defensive, crushing further explorative processes.
• We asked team members to not hold back their emotional connectedness to the project. People become energized by the vital force each of them presents and what they will risk to realize final success. The actress today, Eva Longoria, is relying on her emotional intensity to fuel campaigns for racial justice and empowerment for women.
• They often study past failures. With each failure they gain priceless knowledge that will help them reassess what tools, delivery vehicles, or advisors that were not correct for the project. Even the industry giant, Kraft Foods, is changing their powdered Kool-Aid mix to liquid form, keeping Kool-Aid as a viable contender in the marketplace. According to Paul J. H. Schoemaker, CEO of Decision Strategies International Inc., “People may fear failure, but they fear the consequences of it even more. The performance culture really is in deep conflict with the learning culture. It’s an unusual leader who can balance these.” Be that leader for your team.
• Let yourself, and team leaders, listen, not just ‘hear’ the speculation in others. True listening gives others permission to question options, challenge opinions; and, turn dilemmas into opportunities. When the fair practice of listening is in place, it is unsurprising that you will hear the heartfelt values of others. Frequently, you can gain new world views and help your team enter the flow zone.

Finding Your ‘Flow’ Zone