Athletes call it the ‘zone’ – the state of flow that enables them to break records. Imagine what you could achieve if you could do the same at work. You can.
“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” That’s flow writes Mark Hollingworth for Ivey Business Journal. Quoting the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he explains that while many of us experience flow when we practise our favourite hobbies, few do so at work.
But what if you could? According to McKinsey and Company, you’d boost your performance by up to 500%. It’s a pity then, that most operate at that level only 10% of the time. Here Mark Hollingworth tells you what you need to do to get in the zone at work, and how to inspire your team to do the same.
SET THE RIGHT PARAMETERS
To do your best work, you need to be in a good place “mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically”. But you won’t do that if you don’t look after yourself properly. Nobody can operate at peak flow all the time without burning out, so when you’re at home, take time away from your devices; eat well, rest and exercise; and arrive at work fresh and ready and willing to give your best.
Create a working environment that enhances your chances of getting in the zone. “Research shows most workers experience over 87 interruptions per day,” and on each occasion, regaining concentration takes you away from that precious flow state. Where you do you work matters; make sure it works for you and the task at hand.
SET THE RIGHT GOALS
“You need to care about what you do.” Achieving a flow state also depends on setting the goal so it stretches you without being overwhelming. Think in terms of pushing yourself 3% beyond your existing comfort zone. Feeling excited and a little nervous about your ability to deliver ensures you take the time to prepare properly for the task at hand, and engage with it fully.
It also helps to feel a sense of jeopardy. Are the consequences of success or failure high enough? Again, you don’t want to be devastated by failure, but the challenge must be meaningful, and the feedback immediate – prompt assessment and critique allow you to adjust your performance in real time, keeping you operating on the edge of your capabilities.
GET YOUR TEAM INTO THE ZONE
Leading a team into a flow state is about release – “it’s not all about you”. A leader is an enabler, so be aware of and sensitive to team dynamics and work to create and enhance an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation at work. Remember, each member of the team impacts the group differently, and team dynamics are in a constant state of flux.
Use the full suite of new management tools to foster a resilient esprit de corps; “empathy walks, social presencing theatre, deep democracy conversations… all serve to enable leaders and their teams to make social fields more visible, tangible, and meanful to all.” Make sure your team members know that the way they act impacts on everyone else in the team.
OFFER CHALLENGING WORK
You should know your team members well enough to be able to allocate tasks which reflect their level of ability and competence. Assigning engaging work avoids the issue of employees turning up for work in body, but not in mind or spirit. Set an example by communicating with clarity, respect and candidness. Be positive in your approach and body language, and encourage your employees to contribute their insights.
Ensure that your team’s goal becomes each member’s vested interest. You do this by instilling “the understanding that the team can only win if everyone contributes and works together”. Equally, your team will only enter a state of flow if you let it, so do avoid the temptation to micromanage. “Micromanagement kills flow.” Team members must feel that success is up to them.
Getting in the zone at work boosts your performance to a whole new level – but as well as being the best way to ensure you and your team truly thrive in the workplace, it’s also fun, rewarding, and at times, thrilling.