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Teamwork Skills

Increasing Your Team's Flow Factor

It's getting to be that time of year for many organizations... year-end reviews! Are you a manager tasked with slogging through a batch of evaluation reports and timesheets? Here's a great way to make your team more effective while injecting interest into the review process.

What is Flow?

The following concept is from Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi's book Flow. When our skill set is well-matched to problems, they can be fun and invigorating to solve (the Flow state). But when we lack the necessary skills, we feel frustrated (both as individuals and teams). And when our skills aren’t challenged we’re bored.

One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for too long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.

The Flow model is divided into the following zones: Control, Relaxation, Boredom, Apathy, Worry, Anxiety, Arousal, and Optimum Performance. Which zone represents your typical state depends on whether your skills are low or high and your challenges are low or high. For example, if your skills are high and the challenges you face low, you're probably in the Boredom zone. If you're skills are low and your challenges are high, you're probably in the Anxiety zone. Ideally, your skills match your challenges (Optimal Performance zone).

How to Measure Your Team's Flow

Download the form we've provided and examine this model. Write in your team members' or direct reports' names into the zone that best describes him or her. You have an instant development plan in which there are only three courses of action: provide more training, increase individual challenges (greater responsibility), or decrease individual challenges (fewer responsibilities, more help from other team members, or a completely different role on the team).

Click to see a graphic representation of this example.

For example, if you have an employee, Tamar, who's been with the company for ten years, she's probably mastered quite a few skills. If her level of responsibility has remained about the same, you'd probably notice symptoms of boredom (body language, comments, energy level, etc.). One way to change this and help her move into Optimum Performance might be to partner her with a new employee, Alex, struggling away in the Anxiety zone (not enough skills to meet the challenges). Or perhaps, a completely different job might appeal to Tamar (who also wants to move from Boredom to Optimum Performance).

While this tool won't replace your assessment process, it will provide a conversation piece around which you and your team can discuss their performance in a frank and non-threatening manner.

Another variation on this idea is to complete a model of your team and then have them plot themselves on their own handout. And since nobody is ALWAYS in a state of Boredom or ALWAYS in a state of Optimum Performance, they may decide that a certain percentage of their time/tasks puts them in Optimum Performance, but more than half place them in Boredom. Let them recommend their own plan for development.

If you'd like to speak to a facilitator about how to use this process with your team, please call us at 800-987-5582 and ask for Angie.

Download handout to use with your team.

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