Flexibility or Flow… is being there everything?


A note on this month’s topic – ‘flexibility in the workplace’. In the main, the trend is for our work cultures to be supportive of team members “being there” for life’s important family moments along with providing work-week options with hours that suit availability.

Technology, as we know, has proliferated tools that enable us to work remotely while giving a sense that we are also still part of a team.

However, those who have trialed various iterations of workplace flexibility will have perhaps found yourself reaching for the “three-circle yardstick” at some point – does it work for the individual, the team and the organisation?

The thing that technology has not mastered is the vital contribution of one’s energy to their team which most optimally happens by being present with the team. If the transfer of energy is so vital to teaming, can the benefits of it really be achieved by working remotely?

What are the benefits of energy exchange?  The best performing teams inevitably achieve a state of flow, and flow is fuelled by team energy that is unified by a common goal and that each team member can contribute and feed off.

The amount of just-in-time encounters and serendipitously overheard conversations that have prevented many a wasted effort and sparked many a great outcome are innumerable.

It’s that feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that we are working happily together to achieve outcomes much greater than we could individually. It adds an amplifying effect to our participation in the team and our enjoyment of it.

Furthermore working within a focused and aspiring team can result in regular “success moments” both individually and collectively that propel us onwards with a higher degree of personal satisfaction.

“One of the major correlates of intrinsic motivation, satisfaction, and psychological well-being is the ability to have optimal experiences with some degree of frequency and consistency”. (flow; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)

Hungarian-American Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi’s research that formed the Flow Model found that “flow experiences are considered to be some of the most enjoyable, rewarding, and engaging experiences of all, and typically involve automatic and effortless action coupled with intense focus”

The benefits of having flow experiences include improved overall quality of life, increased self-efficacy, and a stronger sense of self. In this respect, work produced during a flow experience tends to be more creative and of higher quality, giving rise to more satisfaction and positive emotion

Further potential advantages to using teams include synergistic levels of performance and creativity.

With these being the gains of flow at the individual level, the rewards for flow at team level are many times greater.

As organisations in almost every sector are being challenged to do more with less, the amplified impact made possible by teams in flow seems welcome.

It has been estimated that it is possible to achieve a doubling of productivity with a small lift in flow. As many business processes fall to the machine and artificial intelligence – good teams are probably one of the last bastions of human dominance.

We are designed for teaming – and have survived and thrived through development of its key attributes –

  • Self-mastery
  • Empathy
  • Perspective-taking

Those who can work well in teams have a greater chance of finding sustainable roles in society. If we are not alert to it, the temptation of technology’s enablement of “working remotely” may rob us of the very advantages of our humanness – being present together to create high performing teams. Or as John Newell puts it,

“We find our true centre not within the limited confines of our own individuality, family, or nationhood but within the connections between us.”