Happy manual worker handshaking with African American manager who is visiting factory with her colleague.

The secret to high-performing teams: it’s flow

Here’s a little nudge to shake up how you think about developing and investing in some very important people: your team.

Traditional team building and development approaches tend to be based on a deficit model (focusing on what’s lacking), strictly hierarchical and with a belief that creating high-performing individuals is what will add up to a high-performing team. All that simply isn’t true. Instead, leaders need to view the team as far greater than the sum of its parts, leading inclusively and respectfully, letting go of hierarchy and empowering team members to find flow together.

How do you do it? By taking a human approach that focuses on performance and wellbeing. We know you can’t have one without the other: according to Gallup, productivity increases and burnout risk decreases when people are thriving at work. But, rather than putting your team through expensive and largely ineffective ‘team building’ exercises or assessments, instead think about paring things back and encourage peer-to-peer, collaborative guided development.

Through extensive, evidence-based research, we’ve identified nine core elements that must be in place for teams to achieve peak flow together…

  1. Unique contribution
    Every person in the team brings something special to the mix. The key is spotting what knowledge, skills and strengths each team member has, and how to leverage that most effectively for collaboration. Spend time uncovering the strengths of each member of the team, and make sure they know each other’s strengths and skills. Then think about how work is allocated to best leverage the powerful diversity you have within the team.
  2. Clarity
    Without knowing what good looks like, how can we expect to get there? Gallup research has found that “knowing what’s expected” from us at work equates to productivity gains of 5 to 10%. Leaders must embed clarity for their teams, creating a culture of feedback, being clear on outcomes and offering essential structure to help them find flow together.
  3. Safe to stretch
    Staying in the comfort zone is no friend of high performance, but neither is a space where team members are forced into overly stretching scenarios without support. Creating a ‘safe to stretch’ environment means encouraging people to stretch in their strength areas, as well as recognising the importance of psychological safety, so colleagues feel safe not only in stretching themselves but also in speaking up.
  4. Team goals
    For peak team flow and performance, team members need to feel they are working together to achieve a meaningful outcome, rather than being solely focused on completing a list of individual tasks. Leaders must make organisational vision and strategy meaningful at a team level. Enable teams to create specific short-term goals together, encouraging everyone to share how they are contributing and collaborating to achieve them on a regular (weekly or even daily) basis.
  5. Monitor progress
    Accomplishment is a central plank of wellbeing and performance, so it doesn’t do anyone any favours not to focus on results – as long as they’re the right ones. A high-performing, flowing team is one that is continually reassessing the outcomes it has set out to achieve (including questioning their relevance). A leader should create the space for team members to try new and innovative ways of achieving those outcomes.
  6. Team motivations
    Your organisation no doubt has a values statement, even a purpose, but how connected to this are your people really? The purpose and values might be written on the wall or in a glossy booklet, but that doesn’t necessarily make them real. Your team needs a common purpose in order to find flow, and finding meaning in collective work has links to performance and wellbeing. Invest time in enabling your team to identify their intrinsic motivators, sharing their ‘why’.
  7. Platforms for cohesion
    With many of us working remotely more often, how we connect with our colleagues in a human way is more crucial than ever. But work-related systems and platforms can often feel transactional, and the number of messages overwhelming. Think about how you can help your team to connect person-to-person, whether online, over the phone or face-to-face, and build time into the working day for human conversation and connection.
  8. Respectful relationships
    AI might be making advances, but human relationships still matter when it comes to work. Achieving team flow means nurturing respectful relationships, with team members taking the time to really get to know and understand each other, creating a strong sense of belonging and inclusion. Leaders should focus on listening and building a safe space for team members to connect and share openly and free from judgement.
  9. Strengths, feedback and praise
    In a high-performing, ‘flowing’ team, feedback is to be welcomed, not shied away from. That doesn’t mean giving feedback on areas of weakness, but rather taking a strengths-based approach, building people up rather than breaking them down. Praise is important too, and should be based on strengths as well.

Find out how Bailey & French can help your team find flow, with TeamFlow.