The End of Boring and Inefficient Meetings: How to Self-Evaluate Flow

Concrete steps to evaluate the level of Flow leading to higher performance in your meetings.

Why is Flow important? How is Flow connected to collectively intelligent communication? For a group to work effectively together, each person must understand how to be responsible for their level of flow. When everyone understands their needs more accurately in terms of challenge, motivation and skill, it becomes possible for collective intelligence to emerge. 

 

 

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Why is Flow important?

For a group to work effectively together, each person must understand how to be responsible for their level of flow. When everyone understands their needs more accurately in terms of challenge level, motivation and skill level, it becomes possible for collective intelligence to emerge.  

 

How is Flow connected to collectively intelligent communication?
This is what our research team decided to investigate. They tested the minimum viable data points which best capture the essence of the experience of flow in situations of interpersonal influence communication where the collective ambition is to communicate with more collective intelligence. They currently are testing and iterating the following data points after reviewing the following research: 

(Allison & Duncan, 1988; Carli et al., 1988; Csikszentmihalyi, 2013; Csikszentmihalyi & Csikzentmihaly, 1991; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993; Jonsson & Persson, 2006; Keller & Landhäußer, 2012; Moneta, 2012; Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014; Novak et al., 1997; Ryan, 2019)

<FLOW_FEELING>
<CHALLENGE>
<CHALLENGE_QUALIFICATION>
<MOTIVATION>
<MOTIVATION_QUALIFICATION>
<COMPETENCE><COMPETENCE_QUALIFICATION> 

WHAT IS FLOW?
In positive psychology it’s called flow, to performers, it’s being in the zone. According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s theory, flow is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment of the activity. People feel that they lose their sense of time and space. At work, many people do not experience flow very often or even at all. Instead, they experience: control, relaxation, boredom, apathy, worry anxiety or arousal. 
Try a self-evaluation of your Flow
The state of flow has been described as the optimal experience in which one feels a high sense of gratification. For you to be able to reach the experience of flow, it’s required for you to first be motivated and then to be able to overcome your challenges to achieve this state of optimal experience which also gives you a sense of life satisfaction. In practice, this means that you need to be able to find a balance between the perceived challenge of the task at hand, while also feeling skilled enough to overcome these challenges.
O. WHAT IS YOUR REFERENCE SITUATION OF COMMUNICATION?
Measuring flow is easiest if you anchor it to a specific situation. So think back to a recent situation in which you’d like to evaluate your flow. It could be a meeting, a workshop, a review, working alone, giving a presentation or even a conflict resolution etc.  

Do you have one in mind?

 

 

Conflicts

Conflict prevention, handling, mediating & resolution.

Presentations

Face to face live slides or hand-drawing doodles.

Public Speaking

Speeches, pecha-kuchas or pitching in events.

Meetings

Project reviews, weekly meetings and retros.

Workshops

Co-creation, brainstorms and other collaborative sessions.

Recruiting

Publishing job applications, interviewing and on-boarding.

Feedback

Supervisor reviews, career discussions and peer-feedback.

Team building

Team loyalty, on-boarding and wellness events.

Sales

Meetings, customer and public relations.

Teamwork

Problem-solving, planning and co-creation.

Negotiation

Proposals, agreements and contracts.

Writing

Emails, chats, reports and content production.

Research

Expert interviews, co-creation and qualitative research.

Networking

Social media groups, meet-ups and get-togethers.

Events

Seminars, conferences and exhibitions.

Customer service

Reclamations, after-sales and maintenance.

Training

Teaching, training and learning.

Leadership

Managing, mentoring and coaching.

Governance

Board meetings, politics and general meetings.

Transformation

Kick-offs, strategic planning and process development.

Let’s assume that last week you gave a presentation in front of plenty of people. 
“I’d like to evaluate my level of Flow in last week’s presentation”

1. How Challenging was this situation of communication?
In this particular situation that you just chose, How did you perceive your level of challenge on a scale of 1 to 10? It’s all about your perception and feeling of the challenge, not the actual challenge itself. Think back to your role in this situation, were you just a participant or were you in a more responsible role in the meeting? How challenging did that feel for you?

+ 10 “Extremely challenging”
+ 09

+ 08
+ 07 “Quite challenging”
+ 06
+ 05
+ 04  “Slightly challenging”
+ 03
+ 02

+ 01  “Not challenging at all”

 

Let’s assume that in the example used here - presenting on stage - was 8/10 challenging for you. You’ve probably all played “battleships” where x and y coordinate gives you were your bomb land in the sea. Same idea here, the challenge on the left is like the coordinate from your score.
"Presenting on Stage felt 8/10 Challenging for me"

2. How Competent did you feel with your communication in this situation?
Next, think back to the same meeting. How skillful did you feel in that situation? Give yourself a score between 1-10. Again, remember that it’s not about your actual skills, experience or education. It’s only about how you felt about your skills in this situation. 

+ 10 “Feeling Really competent”
+ 09
+ 08
+ 07 “Feeling Quite competent”
+ 06
+ 05
+ 04 “Feeling Slightly competent”

+ 03
+ 02
+ 01 “Not at all feeling competent” about this meeting

 

Let’s assume you felt a skill level of 8/10 in a presentation. Like in “battleship game”, this gives you the x coordinate. These two coordinates together gives you a point on the map which in this example lands in the flow zone. But before we can be sure if you were in the flow, we need to check your level of motivation.  
"I felt 8/10 Competent delivering this Presentation"

3. How Motivated were you?
On a scale 1 to 10: How motivated were you to have an efficient and enjoyable meeting? 

This is where we added a new component to the battleship metaphor: Let’s think of the motivation as a wind that pushes your “bomb” either upwards or downwards depending on your level of motivation. 

+ 10 “Really motivated”
+ 09
+ 08
+ 07 “Quite motivated”
+ 06
+ 05
+ 04  “Slightly motivated”
+ 03
+ 02
+ 01  “Not motivated “- you didn’t really care.

 

Let’s assume that you had a bad day and your motivation was 3/10. Even though you had a high perceived challenge and high skill, your low motivation is most likely going to drag down your experience out of the Flow Zone and into the Apathy Zone. 
"I was 3/10 Motivated to give this Presentation"

The Results of a Self-Evaluation of Flow Typically fall into 4 Zones:

What is the Stress Zone?
On the left side is the Stress Zone. Made of arousal, anxiety and worry. Here you experience feeling from worry to anxiety. At best you might feel aroused or excited to get started yet slightly nervous - not flow. At worst you feel nervous or worried about the situation. 

You end up in the Stress Zone when your skills don’t match the challenge that you’re facing. Like in the example where the challenge level is 8 and perceived skill level is only 4, this takes you directly between the anxiety and arousal zone. Also if your motivation is low, for example, 4/10 it’s like a wind dragging you down on the map towards more anxiety than arousal.  

What is the way out of the Stress Zone?
The only way to get out of this zone is to lower your perceived challenge for example by changing a deadline or scope of the work you do. In this case, if the motivation was higher, the other solution to reach flow would be learning new skills and going higher on your skill score.
What is the Comfort Zone?
The next zone is the Comfort Zone. Here you most likely feel in control and relaxed. There is not much challenge for you so you can just do your thing. Rest of the time you can sit back, relax and enjoy the situation. Of course, this might be fun, but the risk is that due to lack of challenge you slowly start to feel bored. You might start to zone out and lose your focus.  

You end up in the Comfort Zone when your skills exceed the challenges in the given situation. Like in this example where the challenge level is only 2 yet the skill level is 8. This places you in the experience of relaxation which is part of the Comfort Zone. Even with high motivation, you’ll probably not reach flow and stay at best in state of control. If your motivation drops, very quickly you can experience even boredom and disengagement from the meeting.

What is the way out of the Comfort Zone?
For you to avoid dropping into the Groan Zone and aiming to reach The Flow Zone, you might want to think: How often you are stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to reach flow? Maybe you can take a new more active role in your situation or meetings to avoid being bored and lose your motivation?  
What is the Groan Zone?
The next zone is the Groan Zone. Here you most likely feel bored, a lack of motivation or simply worried. And probably groan! You might feel that there is no purpose or role for you in this situation. If someone spends too much time in this zone, there is a risk of falling into deep apathy or even depression. You end up in this zone when both of your perception of your challenge and skills levels are low. This puts your experience in the worry, apathy and boredom. If you have no motivation to do anything about this, you can be dragged further into an experience of apathy.
What is the way out of the Groan Zone?
The way out of this zone is to try to figure out how to build up the motivation to do something about it? How much do you even want to feel motivated? What do you need to be more motivated? Would upping the challenge of adding new skills help your motivation? Often ending in this zone happens when we don’t even believe we could reach flow in a particular situation - it feels out of reach. 
What happens when I reach the Flow Zone?
The last zone is the desired Flow Zone, where you feel peacefully excited and energised by the situation. You might even lose the track of time which just flies by. You feel fully focused and immersed in the activity at hand. You feel like you are in control and enjoying your experience. For you to reach flow, you need a high enough perception of challenge and high enough perception of skills. This places you into the Flow Zone. Having a high motivation to keep overcoming the challenges at hand will keep you right in the peak of the experience of flow.  

The challenge is this zone is not anymore how to get there, but to how to stay there. If you are the only one in the group in flow, you are at risk of losing focus for the others. How might you help others to reach flow with you? Sometimes people focus so much on creating an individual flow for themselves, that they by accident block the opportunity for flow from the others. In this case, group flow is absolutely out of your reach. You can help others and the whole group to find and maintain their flow, by adapting the level of challenge, for example by bringing more structure to the process and reducing the time allocated for the meeting. 

How can you use flow as an individual?

Use this quick self-evaluation of flow to help you to figure out if you need to take on more challenges or learn more skills. It’s an easy way to start taking extreme ownership of your own experience at work and avoid outsourcing your flow to others. 

 

 

How can you use flow as a leader?

As a leader, facilitator or host, flow is a very interesting way to test your assumptions about how to handle each group. Draw the flow map on a flipchart or have it printed on a wall. Then ask each participant to show their flow position on the map with post-its. This gives you a quick overview of their experience. You can even do this without names to make it anonymous. If the majority of the group is bored it might be a sign to change the process, for example speeding up the meeting. When you do so-called “check-ins” to align participants at the beginning of your meetings or “check-outs” to reflect on how to improve your meeting, flow measure is a great tool.   

Now that you know how to measure your flow in meetings, We invite you to reflect how much flow are you usually able to reach in your human interactions? If you don’t, why is it? Is it too much of a challenge? Too little competence or lack of motivation? This can be an interesting diagnostic tool to make your work more efficient, enjoyable and flowing.

SOURCES

Allison, M. T., & Duncan, M. C. (1988). Women, work, and flow. Cambridge University Press.

Carli, M., Fave, A. D., & Massimini, F. (1988). The quality of experience in the flow channels: Comparison of Italian and U.S. students. In Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 288–318). Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Flow: The psychology of happiness. Random House.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Toward a theory of emergent motivation. In Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1992: Developmental perspectives on motivation (pp. 57–97). University of Nebraska Press.

Jonsson, H., & Persson, D. (2006). Towards an Experiential Model of Occupational Balance: An Alternative Perspective on Flow Theory Analysis. Journal of Occupational Science, 13(1), 62–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2006.9686571

Moneta, G. B. (2012). On the Measurement and Conceptualization of Flow. In S. Engeser (Ed.), Advances in Flow Research (pp. 23–50). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-2359-1_2

Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The Concept of Flow. In M. Csikszentmihalyi (Ed.), Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pp. 239–263). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9088-8_16

Novak, T. P., Hoffman, D. L., Novak, T. P., & Hoffman, D. L. (1997). Elab.vanderbilt.edu Measuring the Flow Experience Among Web Users.

Ryan, R. (2019). The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation. Oxford University Press.

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