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How to Make Teamwork Work

Swipes Happiness Lab presents: Set the stage for collective flow to boost productivity and happiness at work

Written by Ralitsa Golemanova

Achieving the right chemistry in a team is something so profoundly mysterious that it’ll take some time until we realize it might have been as simple as Archimedes’ Eureka moment all along. (Yes, the one in the bathtub).

But for the time being, it remains perplexing to a whole lot of team leaders, managers and, for that matter, team members out there how to make teamwork work. There are plenty of methods and revolutionizing systems, yet working in teams does not always get the desired results.

Without trying to philosophize the issue too much, a powerful method for more effective and joyful teamwork hides in a very simple word, but one that we’re yet to explore and realize. It’s called the flow.

We’re used to thinking about the flow state, the term coined by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as something that relates only to personal productivity and fulfillment. The flow describes these moments of sheer clarity when a person is completely immersed in her current activity, experiencing joy from this process and accomplishing her tasks successfully. Productivity rises, and so does personal satisfaction. 

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But let’s step beyond the individual. What about collective flow states? Just thinking about the last magical concert you attended where everybody was mesmerized and fully in the situation. Or the perfect sports game, where every player becomes a natural continuation of her teammates and together, they create a beautiful symphony of just the right movements.

There seems to be huge potential in having the same type of unifying and joyful state of complete presence and absorption in an activity together with a group of people – and even more so with your team.

Flow state on the personal level

So, what are the prerequisites for successful teamwork based on the flow? To understand those, let’s look at the ten conditions that Professor Csikszentmihalyi deems as necessary for an individual to get into the full flow state:

  • Clear expectations and goals that match your skill set and abilities
  • Focused concentration on a narrow subject
  • Action and awareness united, forgetting about self-consciousness
  • Altered experience of time
  • Ongoing feedback allowing you to adjust your actions
  • Skills and abilities match the type of challenge
  • Feeling of control over the action
  • Satisfying activity that is effortless
  • Bodily needs are not prioritized
  • Full immersion, so your awareness is only on the current activity

Not all ten conditions are needed to be in a flow because the state works like an emotion and has different degrees of intensity. So, if you have a few of these in place, you might say you’re in a micro-flow. And if all ten are there, then it’s the macro-flow.

The flow, making teamwork brilliant

And now let’s apply the conditions for personal flow to how they can work for achieving collective flow in teams.

Naturally, not all ten conditions can be there at all times, but the more ways to happiness at work you manage to streamline in your team, the happier and more productive you and your teammates will be, leading to more successful collective problem-solving.

Let’s not forget that your team communication and project management tools are crucial for achieving meaningful processes that bring results and make teamwork smoother and seamless. So it’s useful at every step to consider if you’re making the best of them to create the right synergy building towards the collective flow.

Clear task management processes

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When you know what’s expected of you, you know that it matches your skills and abilities and you have a clear path to take the task from zero to completion, you’re set for success. Having the right project management tool helps enormously here, as it gives visibility on the team’s priorities and the individual responsibilities.

Matching the right task to the right person

Related to the clear task management processes is the adequate assigning of tasks to the right people who can tackle them. This ensures that your skills and abilities will match the challenge at hand, so it’d be neither too difficult nor too easy. In this way, you’re setting the ground for engaging in a satisfying activity that is effortless because it’s both doable and enjoyable, which can take you into a full immersion, or the flow.

Single-tasking for team members

Multitasking is so passe – and it doesn’t work for your productivity and work satisfaction in the long term. Single-tasking is what many teammates and teams are struggling for. It means you put your focused concentration on a single task, so that you get immersed in it and can do your best.

This, of course, can be quite tough in an office where everybody can disturb your flow or can ping you over the team chat at any time. Besides the beloved noise-cancelling headphones, having a team collaboration tool where you can block chunks of time when you can’t be disturbed proves highly helpful. Plus, single-tasking is hugely supported by reducing the number of work tools at hand. While some jobs do require the use of a bunch of different platforms, merging project management with team communication is a clear win.  

Productive brainstorming and collective work

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Who doesn’t despise long and tedious meetings? Sadly enough, many of us do. Yet meetings are a crucial venue for collective brainstorming and task completion.

But tweaking meetings in the right way is important, so that during this together time, you and your teammates can experience the unification of your common actions and individual awareness, in moments when you all lose track of time and of your bodily needs (who’s hungry?) while immersed in a truly engaging discussion.

The key here is to carefully select the occasions when to have a meeting or a brainstorming session. Isn’t it something you can solve over your team chat or by simply assigning a task to your teammate? With fewer meetings, there is less fatigue from them and less wasted time for all team members. And if you manage to take meetings out of the ordinary – going to the park or another unlikely place, introducing a new format for the brainstorming session, just surprising yourself and your teammates with something new – then you might get much better results from them.

Meaningful and timely feedback

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Irregardless of whether you’re a team leader or just collaborate with other teammates on a task, giving timely and purposeful feedback for their work is important. If you want to achieve something together, bouncing ideas back and forth is the way to go. Your team collaboration and communication tools can be of great help here as well, as you can easily chat about tasks, explain new takes and possibilities and make common decisions what the next step should be.

Delegation and trust

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Last but not least, when teammates have a feeling of control over their work, this directly contributes to their ability to immerse in it because they can take ownership and responsibility over the tasks. So when we collaborate, it makes sense to learn to delegate with trust and give others our full support that they can make it – on their own.

And let’s not forget about the bonds between team members. The friendlier you are, the more you like each other and feel connected and driven towards your common goal, the more joyful and meaningful your collective efforts would be. So why not grab a coffee together next time?

What’s your experience with collective flow in your team? How did you make it happen, so you and your teammates got more productive AND joyful? We’d love to learn your hacks in the comments below!

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