Productivity and mindfulness gurus often tout the benefits of getting into a “flow state” for optimal performance, creativity, and high-impact outcomes. That’s because, when you’re “in the zone” and completely immersed in an activity, you lose sense of time, you feel and perform your best, and every action and decision flows seamlessly from the last.
The ability to achieve this state of focus is essential for reaching your goals. What’s more, being intensely focused on a task – beyond the point of distraction, stress, and self-doubt – often leads to feelings of ecstasy, fulfilment, and clarity.
When you and your team achieve peak performance, the business benefits from higher output and quality. Research shows that supporting employees’ ability to reach flow state is increasingly vital to boosting customer satisfaction, talent retention, and revenue growth.
This article explores how you can boost your business by mastering the crucial elements of flow.
Creating the conditions for flow
Certain conditions must be met to achieve flow state, according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term.
- Clarity of goals: Getting into the zone is easier when you know what you want to accomplish.
- Immediate feedback: Real-time information allows you to make smart decisions and to change direction when things aren’t working.
- Intense focus: Engagement and concentration are key, so all distractions should be eliminated.
- Balance between skills and knowledge: If the task you’re working on is too challenging, it will be difficult to get into the zone. If it’s not challenging enough, you might get bored and lose interest.
- Sense of personal control and agency over the task. Working on something that matters and that you care about keeps you focused and motivated.
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness: In flow state, there’s no room for self-doubt or second-guessing; just the thrill of doing great work.
- Time distortion: When you’re completely absorbed in a task you enjoy, you lose track of time.
- Consolidation of action and awareness: Doing great work should feel almost effortless.
- Feeling of reward: This comes with the confidence that what you’re working on is achievable.
The importance of flow in business
Consider a relay race. The runner passing the baton anticipates that their teammate will be ready for a smooth transition. But what if your teammate isn’t there? Or what if they drop the baton and must turn around to retrieve it before continuing with the race? In this case, the entire team suffers; there is no flow, things are dropped, and processes take longer than necessary.
Flow in a business, like a relay team, is based on the collaboration of a group of individuals working towards a common goal or purpose. Good business flow describes a company’s ability to consistently and steadily provide value to its customers. Flow is disrupted when everyone appears busy, but it is impossible to get anything done.
Yet, this is how many businesses operate. People know that flow is important but don’t know where to focus. Without the smooth transfer of tasks between colleagues, things get stuck in inefficient processes and workflows. Balls are dropped, and quality, productivity, and motivation suffer as a result.
When your organisation is not optimised for flow, work gets passed between impossibly busy team members who are mentally exhausted from the effects of context switching, excessive meetings, rework, and an inability to focus. This has a significant impact on both quality and speed of delivery.
Understanding where to apply your focus makes a massive difference in results. This is why businesses need to actively create the conditions that help teams focus and minimise distractions.
When your entire team achieves flow state, it might feel like you are working in perfect sync. However, reshaping businesses around flow necessitates fundamentally altering the company’s DNA to prioritise deep human engagement and to incorporate flow into your core philosophy. This is crucial for your business to keep pace in an ever-changing world.
Here, we consider three pillars of business flow: process flow, data flow, and team flow.
Improving and automating processes within your business is one of the best ways to achieve flow. Using cloud technology, you can connect your people to each other and to their work to get things done faster, even when they are working remotely.
Business process automation (BPA) removes manual, repetitive processes and gives time back to your people so they can work on higher-value tasks. For example, instead of your team needing to send emails back and forth or having to follow up with their managers for approvals, BPA pushes documents and approvals through a workflow, notifying and reminding people when their input is needed.
Cloud solutions also capture and track every action, providing valuable, auditable data that you can use to identify issues and make informed decisions. Integrating processes also dramatically improves team productivity, frees them up to focus on more important tasks, and enables the entire business to flow forward seamlessly. Research has found that employees at businesses with higher levels of work process integration reported higher levels of engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. These businesses have strategically orchestrated and automated services across the organisation and established a central location for services and applications, allowing employees to access business-critical information from a single dashboard.
Data flow is similar to a river in that it can have multiple sources, cross multiple points, and eventually empty into a larger body – or dry up. The challenge, however, is that most businesses have multiple software solutions running on different systems. Sharing information between these systems is challenging, if not impossible, often requiring the information to be entered multiple times in different ways, duplicating efforts and increasing the risk of error.
Monitoring data streams, opening up silos, removing barriers, and allowing data to flow as smoothly as possible unlocks competitive advantages and drives innovation through sharing ideas and information, transferring knowledge, and supporting collaboration. Having a well-organised information flow can also reduce costs, improve customer service, and make processes more efficient.
The challenge comes in making data available throughout its flows and functions without comprising security or compliance. This necessitates the need for cloud ERP solutions that not only remove barriers to information but also provide the ability to control access and maintain an audit trail for integrated, automated reporting.
ERP solutions integrate company data and processes into a unified database containing information about manufacturing, supply chain, CRM, HR, and warehouse management, enabling real-time information sharing throughout the organisation. Moreover, the ability to customise workflows better supports the business’s activities, reduces risk, and improves the employee experience by reducing errors caused by insufficient or incorrect information. High-level planning and decision-making also become faster and easier.
Impediments like manual processes, disjointed systems, and multiple data sources can create anxiety and boredom among teams, leading them to disengage, which impacts output, quality, and delivery.
Apart from integrating systems and creating a single data repository, here are other ways you can facilitate team flow and take performance to the next level.
Use time effectively
Allocate time blocks for your team to focus on a project, schedule meeting-free days for deep work, and discourage multitasking. Flow state cannot be forced. You need a clear objective, reasonable workload, and a positive state of mind.
Set clear goals
When people know what they need to accomplish, it’s easier to get into the zone. And when people understand how a task contributes to the larger team or business goals, they can prioritise work and get high-impact work done. Elements such as role clarity, a clear understanding of objectives, and access to the knowledge and resources needed to get the job done are crucial.
Balance team skills to the challenge
According to the Harvard Business Review, flow appears near the emotional midpoint between boredom and anxiety – the point where the task is hard enough to stretch us but not hard enough to make us snap. Challenge your team with an exciting, high-stakes challenge that takes them (slightly) outside of their comfort zone. Provide skills training where necessary.
Give your team ownership of the task
When people have a sense of ownership over a task – especially if it’s something they’re good at and passionate about – they’ll be motivated to do their best work.
Actively limit the amount of work in process
Instead of working on ten things at once and achieving mediocre results, allow your team to focus on a handful of tasks so they can work to deliver them with as few disruptions as possible.
Keep feedback loops short
Real-time or near real-time feedback loops keep the momentum going, allowing you to deliver steady, frequent value to customers faster. You gain a distinct competitive advantage when your business can respond to market trends and customer demands quicker and more effectively than your competitors. After all, the true measure of business success is not how busy your employees are but how much value they can produce and how frequently.
Go with the flow
While everyone else is distracted, people in flow are adapting — they’re using the state to boost their performance, acquire new skills, and help the business to keep pace with radical change.
Research has found that people will learn 240% to 500% faster than normal when they are in flow, and creativity spikes 400% to 700%.
Work environments that provide a safe space for people to pursue challenging goals inspire
exceptional levels of energy, increase self-confidence, and competitive advantage. Indeed, Harvard Business Review says companies with “fail forward” as their de-facto motto have an incredible advantage. If employees don’t have the space to fail, they can’t take risks. And if you’re not incentivising risk, you deny access to flow.
Bottom line? Flow follows focus, and quality is a by-product of focus.
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