Combining Strengths with Flow in the workplace

During my 3-years of study on the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) we studied many facets of Positive Psychology (PP). This included Strengths and Flow and my research project focused in detail on the latter. The results that came out of my research have led to the development of a number of flow related training tools and the latest product of my studies is a NEW workshop specifically designed for the business world: Working Together - Developing Team Flow. The essence of this workshop is that it combines the identification and understanding of strengths (using well known and available products) with understanding and finding of both individual and team flow (using products that I have developed following my own research). There is a natural pathway from strengths to flow as I will discuss in this blog post.


Identifying Strengths

According to Linley and Bateman (2018) research indicates that only one in three people are aware of what their strengths are! Strengths are essentially things that you are good at and that you enjoy doing, and once you know what your strengths are you can better understand how and when to use them so that the real authentic you comes to the fore. People who get to use their strengths in the workplace tend to be more productive and derive greater enjoyment from their job.


There are a number of strengths tests available including the VIA Character Strengths Survey and the Strengths Profile. The latter, developed by Alex Linley and colleagues, is ideal for business and the workplace as it not only identifies the strengths that you use (your realised strengths), but also strengths that are not being used (your unrealised strengths), things that you are good at but do not necessarily enjoy (your learned behaviours) and things that you are not good at (your weaknesses). This profile gives a great insight and understanding of what energises you and helps you to perform at your best. And it provides managers with valuable information about their team, so that jobs can be crafted in such a way as to match roles with individuals strengths benefiting the whole team. Of course, it is recognised that the smaller the team the more difficult it is to have individuals always using their strengths and it will be necessary for team members to undertake tasks that they may not enjoy so much, requiring them to use their learned behaviours. However, simply creating awareness of each team members strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses triggers a conscious effort to try and ensure that each member of the team is getting to use their realised and unrealised strengths whenever possible. The clear advantage of this is that employees are more likely to enjoy their work and if they are getting to use their unrealised strengths then they will also be stretching and developing themselves (more on this within the Flow section).


Finally, a useful activity in addition to using an online strengths questionnaire (such as Strengths Profile or VIA) is to use strengths cards such as the ones developed by Ilona Boniwell (pictured below). These create a great way for teams to interact with each other to learn about their own strengths and those of the other team members.

Understanding Flow

Flow is a mental state that has been researched since the 1970's. The person credited with creating the construct is Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi and his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is one of his most popular works. The original conceptualisation of flow has nine dimensions, but following Derek Tate's recent research (2019) the proposed new model has TEN dimensions with four being what's known as the Flow Foundations and six being the Flow State Characteristics. The Flow Cards pictured below are one of the training tools that have been developed by Parallel Dreams for use on their workshops.


Flow involves being fully focused on the task at hand and is a pleasurable experience, both during and after the activity, leading to greater enjoyment and enhanced learning. It is a desirable state, both in terms of work and leisure, as it can lead to increased productivity and greater well-being of individuals and teams. Click here to learn more about flow.

Finding Your Flow

Not surprisingly using your strengths (things that you do well and love to do) is more likely to lead to flow and indeed tapping into your unrealised strengths is even better, as this is likely to create a better challenge-skills balance (one of the key flow foundations), which in turn will take you out of your comfort zone into the stretch zone helping you to develop your skills.


The flow foundations are so named because it is essential that they are in place if one is to have a chance of experiencing flow. There are no guarantees that this mental state will be experienced, but there is no doubt that clearly understanding these foundations and how to create tasks that use them will greatly increase the chances.


When you are in flow you will experience some or all of the flow state characteristics (as pictured below). The more characteristics you experience the deeper the flow state will be.

Developing Team Flow

The idea of team flow, in terms of scientific research, is relatively recent with Jef van den Hout and Orin Davis doing great work on this and recently publishing a book titled Team Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Collaboration. Creating team flow works on the same basis as individual flow with the need for foundations to be in place before the team can experience flow. These include a common goal with aligned individual goals, high skill integration that uses the individual strengths of team members and open communication & feedback. However, an essential element of achieving team flow is that there is a psychologically safe place where people can perform without fear of failure. Clearly there are degrees of failure that can be tolerated but effective learning will only take place where mistakes are allowed.


Subsequently characteristics of team flow will include a holistic focus (total concentration on the shared activity), a sense of unity (not feeling self-conscious with each other) and trust in each other (which largely comes from open communication and feedback). Finally, there must be a joint sense of progress towards the common goal. A couple of examples of team flow, which really resonate with me, are: 1) a difficult operation by a surgeon(s) and their team, and 2) a tyre change during a motor racing grand prix with the proviso that the former is not a situation where failure is an option!


So, in summarising the pathway towards working together more effectively, the first step is to identify strengths of all team members, the second is to understand how to achieve and facilitate individual flow and thirdly how to work towards team flow.

Want to work together better and develop team flow?

Why not get Derek to come and run a workshop for your business and learn how to incorporate strengths and flow to promote better performance and greater enjoyment? Workshops can be run as either half-day or full-day and will be tailored to suit your business type and the size of your team. Enquire now.


References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.

Hout, J. J. J. van den, Davis, O. C., & Walrave, B. (2016). The application of team flow theory. In L. Harmat, F. Ørsted Andersen, F. Ullén, J. Wright, & G. Saldo (Eds.), Flow experience: Empirical research and applications (pp. 233–247). Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

Linley, A., & Bateman, T. (2018). The strengths profile book: Finding what you can do + love to do and why it matters (2nd ed.). CAPP Press.

Tate, D. (2019). Dissertation for Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP): The 10 dimensions of the proposed new Fluctuating Attention model of Flow.

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