In Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler wrote about the fact that when Navy SEALs enter the chaos of combat they rely on an unusual form of teamwork. What was once a group of individual soldiers becomes a tight, seamless unit, a fluid machine, an organic organism.
In peak performance research, this experience is known as “group FLOW.”
It was first discovered by University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Sawyer (a student of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), and fully described in his book Group Genius. Sawyer spent almost 15 years studying group FLOW in improv jazz musicians and improv comedy troupes, along the way discover that, just as individual FLOW states have triggers (that is, pre-conditions that produce more FLOW), group flow also has triggers.
In a nut-shell these are the main group FLOW TRIGGERS:
Serious Concentration: It’s vital that everyone in the group has their maximum attention tuned in to the here-and-now. No distractions. Real-life-exercise (RLE): before you start a team conference, ask everyone to close their own laptop, to put the smartphone on „silent“ and avoid any kind of distractions, if possible.
Shared, Clear Goals: This is a balancing act. You need enough focus so the team knows when they are close to a solution. Equally, you need to leave things open enough for creativity to emerge. RLE: At the beginning of a group meeting, set a clear agenda. Coming to single projects, state in a clear way, which are the main goals, which solutions can be put in place and in case decisions are taken, who is going to have the acccountability for it („owner of the process“).
Good Communication: It’s important that the conversation is always moving forward. Drawing on the most important rule of improv… “Yes, and…” goes a lot further than “No, but…”. RLE: Set a clear „Yes, we can-rule“ as a fundamental part of your group communication & feedback culture. Stress always and always that you want people communicate to each other in a respectful way, in which everyone can express her/his own opinion and that feedback should be given not in a destructive way, but as solution-oriented contribution to move forward in a particular task.
Familiarity: This comes in the form of a common language and a communication style based on unspoken understandings. RLE: Be in your communication style authentic ! Avoid to communicate in a way different to what the group knows from your behavior, from other circumstances.
Equal participation (and skill level): Think of professional athletes playing with amateurs. The professionals will be bored and the amateurs frustrated. RLE: Your group is a GAME TEAM, in which everyone should get the feeling to have the same chances to perform / grow as the others. There are no „primadonna / primouomo„, because only the team wins thanks to the contribution of each single high-talented team member.
Shared Risk: In particular, the risk of failure. There’s no creativity without failure, and there’s no Group FLOW without the risk of failure. RLE: Let the group feel that nobody will be „punished“ because of „errors“ or „wrong decisions“. The group should have the confidence that in critical situation everyone can count on the support of the team and of the management.
Sense of Control: In the form of AUTONOMY, COMPETENCE and MASTERY. It’s about getting to choose your own challenges and having the necessary skills to achieve them. RLE: Invite everyone in the group to be accountable for the decisions they take in every moment, every day in autonomous manner.
Close Listening: This is about being fully engaged. RLE: Listen carefully when someone is talking to you and give an adequate feedback, related to what this person said.
Leveraging these group flow triggers is key for organizations interested in increasing creativity, innovation, and productivity.
This week’s living experiment: Analyze your own life through the lens of these triggers.
Ask yourself: How often do I experience group flow? When it shows up, which of these triggers tend to accompany it? When I want it to show up, how can I use these triggers to get more of it. Now run the experiment. Add a few of these triggers into your next few weeks, see what you discover…
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