What is group flow? Here’s what you need to know.

Written by
Steven Kotler

What is group flow? Here’s what you need to know.

Written by
Steven Kotler

What is group flow? Here’s what you need to know.

Written by
Steven Kotler

The events this week were challenging for many.

On that note—I want to talk about what happens when a bunch of people enter the zone together.

See there’s a collective version of a flow state known as group flow.

If you’ve ever seen a fourth-quarter comeback in football—where everyone is always in the right place at the right time and the result looks more like a well-choreographed dance than anything that normally happens on the gridiron.

That’s group flow in action.

But it’s not just athletes who play this game.

In fact, group flow is incredibly common in start-ups.

When the whole team is driving toward a singular purpose with incredible speed—again, that’s group flow in action.

Here’s how Salim Ismail, Founding Executive Director of Singularity University and lead author of Exponential Organizations puts it:

Because entrepreneurship is about the nonstop navigation of uncertainty, being in flow is a critical aspect of success.

Flow states allow an entrepreneur to stay open and alert to possibilities, which could exist in any partnership, product insight, or customer interaction.

The more flow created by a start-up team, the higher the chance of success. In fact, if your start-up team is not in a near-constant group flow state, you will not succeed. Peripheral vision gets lost and insights don’t follow.”

So how do you trigger group flow?

This is where social triggers come into play.

These triggers are ways to alter social conditions to produce more group flow.

The first three social triggers—concentration; shared, clear goals; good communication (i.e., lots of immediate feedback)—are the collective versions of the psychological triggers identified by Csikszentmihalyi.

Two more—equal participation and an element of risk (mental, physical, whatever)—are self-explanatory given what we already know about flow.

The remaining five require a little more information.

Familiarity, our next trigger, means the group has a common language, a shared knowledge base, and a communication style based on unspoken understandings.

It means everybody is always on the same page, and when novel insights arise, momentum is not lost due to the need for lengthy explanations.

Then there are blending egos—which is kind of a collective version of humility.

When egos have been blended, no one’s hogging the spotlight and everyone’s thoroughly involved.

A sense of control combines autonomy (being free to do what you want) and mastery (being good at what you do). It’s about getting to choose your own challenges and having the necessary skills to surmount them.

Close listening occurs when we’re fully engaged in the here and now.

In conversation, this isn’t about thinking about what witty thing to say next or what cutting sarcasm came last.

Rather, it’s generating real-time, unplanned responses to the dialogue as it unfolds.

Our final trigger, always says “yes, and . . . ,” which means interactions should be additive more than argumentative.

The goal here is the momentum, togetherness, and innovation that come from ceaselessly amplifying one another’s ideas and actions.

It’s a trigger based on the first rule of improv comedy.

If I open a sketch with “Hey, there’s a blue elephant in the bathroom,” and you respond with “No, there’s not,” the scene goes nowhere.

Your denial kills the flow.

But instead, if your response is of the “yes, and . . .” variety—“Yeah, sorry, I had no idea where to put him, did he leave the toilet seat up again?”—then the story goes someplace interesting.

So, a mix of familiarity, blended egos, a sense of control, close listening, and additive interaction is what enables a group - and business - to drop into the flow and show their best as a collective.

As a leader, the more you integrate these, the better!

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