16.05.2011

Coaching - Getting In Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi originally coined the positive psychology term 'Flow' to describe the optimal mental state of operation when working on a task. When you're working in flow your goals are clear, feedback is immediate, and the relationship between the task complexity and your own capabilities is just right to make the challenge itself the most enticing reward. It's the ideal mental state to be in to get stuff done, and get the most out of it.
Getting 'in flow' can be difficult to plan - but as a team lead, getting the fit between complexity and capability right for your team is essential if you want everyone motivated and engaged. Here's a quick little exercise I'd occasionally run through with some of my team members back at Unico to try to make this happen.

Meet with your team member face to face and on a piece of paper, draw up a set of axis - the vertical labelled axis 'complexity' and the horizontal axis labelled 'capability' (see the example below).

Ask your team member to think of the work that they've been doing over the last few weeks and plot a point on the graph that maps where they think the balance of their capabilities and the complexity of the tasks they've been working on fit. Don't worry too much if they're focussing on the lower or higher ends of the axis, it's the relative position on the axis that really matters.

Next - draw a diagonal band from the bottom left corner of the axis at a 45 degree angle like in the example below.

Where do they sit? If they're on top of the in flow band, they're 'in abuse' as the complexity of the task is too great - they're probably feeling a little frustrated as it's hard for them to get traction on their tasks. If they're below the 'in flow' band, they're 'in disuse' as their capability far outweighs the complexity of the tasks you've assigned them - they're probably also feeling frustrated, but in this case it's because they're bored and don't feel valued. The ideal is to be somewhere in the 'in flow' sweet spot, preferably on the top edge so that they are being stretched and find the task challenging.

From here it's all about working with your team member to come up with ways to get them back in flow and keep them there. If they're in abuse, you may need to look for training opportunities, pairing them with another team member, or working on some bridging tasks to skill up. If they're in disuse you need to look for more challenging tasks or add greater responsibility to up the ante.

Once a plan is in place, it's important to maintain a regular check-in every couple of weeks with your team member to monitor progress. The main thing is to make sure that they're moving towards getting in flow, as spending too long in abuse or in disuse is a real motivation killer.

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