While I may not admit this in a job interview, it is not entirely natural or easy for me to work with others. My introverted self prefers to create ideas and digest complex situations in my own mind on my own time. It just feels more efficient to work through an idea by myself than with a group.
Too many times I’ve experienced circular discussions and unnecessary compromises, which have led me to think ‘can’t I just do this on my own!?’ However, after learning about the concept of a ‘shared flow state’, I’ve realized that I may not be collaborating very effectively.
You may be familiar with what is called the ‘flow’ state. This is when you are so entrenched with what you are doing that it is effortless, time flies, and you are at your best, creative self. We’d all like to reach a flow state as often as we can throughout our busy weeks, but this can be a real challenge in our global, corporate business that relies on cross-functional cooperation. It is quite difficult to hit that flow state when we are not alone and constantly in meetings or work sessions with others.
The concept of ‘shared flow’
What if it was possible to activate a flow state with other people? Cognitive science specialist John Vervaeke has spoken about ‘shared flow’ and perhaps coined the term, however due to limited research it’s hard to trace back this concept to its exact origin.
Limited research aside, the concept of shared flow is quite compelling. Vervaeke describes it as the state where creative expression, spontaneity, and improvisation are in harmony amongst multiple individuals. This unique flow state is visually evident when watching experienced dance partners, jazz musicians, and sparring partners, among other athletes and creatives. When applied to corporate collaboration, I believe that shared flow can help lead to ideas, solutions, and outcomes that are brilliant and clearly beyond what any one individual could devise.
Shared flow and synergy
The shared flow state may sound similar to another collaboration-based concept: synergy. This is where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’, as explained by Stephen Covey in his classic self-help book (and in my opinion the only self-help book anyone really needs) ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ Creating synergy is valuable because it helps us overcome what Covey describes as a “shortage of data”.
We are all limited in our knowledge and confined to our own perspectives. When we synergize, we combine our perspectives with others which leads to solutions beyond what we could think up alone. When I think about the relationship between shared flow & synergy, I see the two working together – with shared flow being a catalyst to true synergy.
How can we achieve shared flow and synergy?
How can we give ourselves the best chances of reaching a shared flow state and to synergize with others? Since learning about the concept of shared flow, I’ve tried to observe the situations where I have felt closest to being in this unique state and identified the circumstances that led to a successful shared flow. While this topic has not been scientifically assessed, here are some tricks I’ve learned from my observations to increase the probability of reaching shared flow in the workplace.
Leave your ego at the door
Ego can get in the way of creating true collaborative synergy. To have any chance of reaching a shared flow state in the workplace, you’ve got to be open to other ideas, thoughts, and perspectives. That may seem obvious, but next time you take part in a collaborative group session do a self-scan to determine how open-minded you really are. Ask yourself:
- Are you more interested in sharing your own ideas, or hearing other ideas?
- Do you spend more energy lobbying your existing ideas, or building on others’ ideas?
- Do you wish that the group selects your idea as the ‘best’ idea, or are you genuinely hoping that someone else’s idea is better than yours?
If the former option is true for any of these questions – which I’ve certainly been guilty of – just remember: You already know everything that you already know. Use group working sessions to get exposed to thoughts and perspectives that you don’t already have because this will help everyone create better ideas with less effort. It starts with a mindset shift to be excited to hear other ideas and to leave the ego behind.
Shared flow is not possible without trust
Vervaeke and Covey both note the importance of trust in order to activate the shared flow state and create synergy. If there isn’t already a strong foundation of trust between your team, the first step is to build it. This may not be easy, but it is that simple.
In our global enterprise which has a massive diversity of backgrounds, skillsets, and experiences, we are limiting our collective potential if we don’t more-often activate shared flow states. When trust is established and ego set aside during our collaborative work, our ability to change lives through sport will go beyond what any one of us dreamed possible.