233© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
L. Harmat et al. (eds.), Flow Experience, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-28634-1_15
The Application of Team Flow Theory
Jef J. J. van den Hout , Orin C. Davis , and Bob Walrave
Abstract Despite the noted potential for ‘team ﬂ ow’ to enhance a team’s effective-
ness, productivity, performance, and capabilities, studies on the construct are scarce.
Most research on ﬂ ow has been conducted either at the individual level, which
generally constitutes the experience of complete absorption while working on a
task, or at the artistic ensemble level, which reﬂ ects a gestalt group experience. But,
team ﬂ ow in the work environment, where teams differ from performance groups,
has not yet been studied or reported. One of the reasons for this is the difﬁ culty
applying theories of ﬂ ow to the team level, because the research on ﬂ ow, group
ﬂ ow, and team dynamics does not readily gel. In this chapter, however, we will
brieﬂ y discuss the precursors and components of team ﬂ ow and its consequences.
We will also describe how these precursors and components work by giving some
examples of team ﬂ ow experiences in different environments. Our analysis provides
both theoretical insights into the causes of the emergence of team ﬂ ow and practical
suggestions for work teams to foster team ﬂ ow experiences.
Concurrent with Csikszentmihalyi’s delineation of ﬂ ow (for a review, see
Csikszentmihalyi 1990 ) was the idea that ﬂ ow might also be connected with the
dynamics of a cohesive group. Researchers like Keith Sawyer ( 2003 , 2006 , 2007 )
have developed this theory into a conception of ‘ group ﬂ ow ’ that describes how the
group, as a unit, experiences an analog of the ﬂ ow state. Much of their work,
however, focuses on group creativity and the development of innovation. Sawyer’s
J. J. J. van den Hout (*) • B. Walrave
School of Industrial Engineering , Eindhoven University of Technology ,
P.O. Box 513 , 5600 MB Eindhoven , The Netherlands
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
O. C. Davis
City University of New York, Baruch College , New York , NY , USA
University of Massachusetts Boston , Boston , MA , USA
work was developed through the study of groups engaged in the arts, especially
musicians and thespians. As noted by Snow ( 2010 ), there is little work that reviews
the dynamics of team ﬂ ow experiences in the workplace outside the context of
Flow is a subjective experience in which people report performing their best;
when in ﬂ ow, the individual operates at full capacity (Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi
2002 ). The deﬁ ning feature of ﬂ ow is intense experiential involvement in moment-
to- moment activity; attention is fully invested in the task at hand, and the person
functions at his or her fullest capacity. A host of studies have found a strong positive
relationship between ﬂ ow and performance. Even more compelling are the develop-
mental implications of ﬂ ow: as individuals master challenges in an activity, they
develop greater levels of skill, and the activity ceases to be as involving as before.
To continue experiencing ﬂ ow, they must identify increasingly greater challenges.
Thus, over time, the balance between challenges and skills enhances competence,
and even mastery (Csikszentmihalyi et al. 2005 ).
Consistent with Kozlowski and Klein’s ( 2000 ) multilevel approach, as well as
Gully et al.’s ( 2002 ) contention that constructs experienced at the individual level
can be aggregated when they are being assessed at the team level, we maintain that
when all team members are experiencing ﬂ ow concomitant with pursuing the
team’s common purpose, there is a collective ﬂ ow experience which we deﬁ ne as
team ﬂ ow .
Here, our aim is to investigate which organizational climates foster the collective
ﬂ ow experiences for collaborating team members, and which constructs are
experienced when the collective team ﬂ ow experience occurs. We introduce an
i ntegrated theory of team ﬂ ow, which extrapolates the construct of individual
ﬂ ow to the team level. We then turn to the precursors (climates) and components
(constructs) of team ﬂ ow, after which we propose interventions that could ignite the
team ﬂ ow experience.
15.2 Flow Theory in a Team Context
During the individual experience of ﬂ ow when being part of a team, a team member
perceives the original nine conditions of ﬂ ow, which are (1) clear proximal goals
every step of the way, (2) immediate feedback to one’s actions, (3) balance between
challenges and skills, (4) no worry of failure, (5) distractions excluded from
consciousness , (6) a merging of action and awareness, (7) the disappearance of
self- consciousness, (8) distorted sense of time, (9) the activity is done for its own
sake (intrinsically rewarding [autotelic]) (Csikszentmihalyi 1996 ). For a team
environment, the nine conditions of the original ﬂ ow theory can be distinguished
into antecedents, scaffolds, and components, but they appear in modiﬁ ed forms at
the team level, as we will discuss.
The ﬁ rst ﬁ ve can be coined as antecedents (external conditions) that foster
ﬂ ow and the latter four as components (internal conditions) that indicate ﬂ ow
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
(Csikszentmihalyi 1994 ; Hamilton and Hurford 2007 ). Yet, the antecedent ‘no
worry of failure’ can also be seen as a component of ﬂ ow if thought of as ‘a sense
of control ’. The same goes for ‘distractions excluded from consciousness ’ if it is
interpreted as ‘ concentration ’ (Hamilton and Hurford 2007 ; Nakamura and
Csikszentmihalyi 2002 ). Because these two antecedents can be created by the
individual and subsequently arise as a component , we refer to them as scaffolds of
the individual ﬂ ow experience in a team context rather than antecedents or compo-
nents. That is, they create the bridge necessary for the individual to cross into a ﬂ ow
A key facet of this conception is that the antecedents, and to some extent the
scaffolds, are within the control of the individual, such that (s)he can directly
inﬂ uence if or how these antecedents are created. In fact, in team contexts, individu-
als can affect the development and/or progress of these antecedents for other team
members, and thus make it possible for the components (which are outside the
control of the individual) to emerge.
15.3 The Team Flow Theory
15.3.1 The Precursors for Team Flow
We expect that team ﬂ ow creates a group-level state in which all participating team
members are completely involved in their common activity, and are working
together intuitively and synergistically towards the common purpose (cf. Sawyer
2006 , 2007 ). Therefore, while experiencing team ﬂ ow, individual team members
are experiencing the mental state of ﬂ ow simultaneously by executing their personal
task for the team. The question this raises is how a team can establish a dynamic in
which this is possible, and we posit that the establishment of such a dynamic
requires a set of baseline conditions, or precursors .
We argue that the precursors follow from the collective ambition that all team
members share (Posner et al. 1985 ; Ready and Truelove 2011 ; Weggeman 2007 ),
particularly insofar as it is the starting point and raison d ’ être of the team. Starting
from the existence of a collective ambition we distill six precursors. (1) Common
goal : The presence of a common goal that is shared by all team members (cf. Sawyer
2007 ). The common goal of the team should be clear and meaningful to all team
members, compatible with members’ individual goal(s), internalized by all team
members and growth-promoting. (2) Aligned personal goals : The presence of
personal goals that contribute to achieving the common goal. The personal goals
established are clearly deﬁ ned, meaningful and speciﬁ c, and also provide growth
and development for the individual team member (Locke and Latham 2006 ; O’leary-
kelly et al. 1994 ). The personal goals unite the individual team members and create
a ‘clear proximal goal’ for each of them. As noted, a clear proximal goal is one of
the antecedents of individual flow. (3) High skill integration : The integration
of complementary, high-level skills present within each individual team member.
15 The Application of Team Flow Theory
In the distribution of tasks all team members are deployed on a challenging task/role
that suits their preferences, talents, knowledge, and skills (Katzenbach and Smith
1992 ; Salas et al. 2008 ). For this to happen, everyone on the team must have roughly
comparable [high] levels of skill, along with some speciﬁ c unique skills, which
together are representative for his/her speciﬁ c role in the team. In this way, the indi-
vidual forces are optimally utilized and combined to create a degree of synergy
(win-win) through their collaboration. (4) Open communication : Open and trans-
parent communication ensures that all team members know exactly how each deliv-
ers his/her contribution to the team (Sawyer 2007 ). In this way each team member
has his/her perspective broadened by the other members of the team, which is also
one of the conditions of interpersonal ﬂ ow (Snow 2010 ). To achieve this, feedback
is required on each individual’s personal task, the joint team task, and the process
of collaboration. The feedback given must be clear, constructive, and encouraging.
This kind of feedback helps team members to build on their interactions and achieve
the common goal in the most efﬁ cient and effective way (Guzzo and Salas 1995 ).
This implies that team members listen to each other and achieve familiarity with
each other (cf. Sawyer 2007 ). A form of open communication within the team
environment gives each individual team member the requisite ‘immediate feedback’
about the joint progress that is being made. (5) Safety : A psychologically safe
environment to perform personal tasks in the interest of the team. To achieve a safe
environment, unnecessary and unacceptable risks are eliminated, but the possibility
of failure still exists for each team member. The goal is, after all, set at a challenging
level to release high skills. Therefore, failure is seen as an opportunity for growth
and team members support each other in achieving these challenging goals without
worrying about what others think (cf. Snow 2010 ). Safety within the team environ-
ment decreases each individual team member’s worries about his/her performance
on the task at hand. As Sawyer ( 2007 ) notes, this uses the potential for failure to
push the group towards the ﬂ ow state rather than being intimidated by it. Having ‘no
worries of failure’ is deﬁ ned as a scaffold of individual ﬂ ow that can be partly
designed or structured in the work environment and thus can act as an antecedent.
Safety is therefore an important contributor to our proposed team ﬂ ow component
sense of shared trust (see below). (6) Mutual commitment : The responsibility to
engage with each other to achieve the desired common goal with devotion and
dedication. Everyone is aware of how the tasks are distributed, the process of pursu-
ing the target (goal), and the current state of the project. Team members support
each other in creating the ideal team dynamics to achieve the common goal with
task- oriented behavior and accountability for fulﬁ lling responsibilities (Katzenbach
and Smith 1993 ). Mutual commitment within the team environment decreases the
availability of distractions for each team member (Aubé and Rousseau 2005 ), which
makes it possible for everyone to concentrate on the task at hand (Csikszentmihalyi
1996 ; Sawyer 2007 ). The degree of commitment of the individuals is often
mentioned as a potential mediating mechanism to performance (Aubé et al. 2014 ;
Landhäußer and Keller 2012 ; Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi 2009 ). When
mutually committed, team members are intensely involved in a shared, meaningful
activity and are able to remain concentrated on this activity as long as necessary to
achieve the common goals.
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
15.3.2 The Components of Team Flow
Once team ﬂ ow is achieved, one shares a number of experiences at the team level,
which we term the components: (1) Shared identity : The collective ambition of the
team, constituting the reason of team existence, is the ﬁ rst component of team ﬂ ow,
and is about the shared sense of intrinsic motivation to operate and to perform as a
team based on shared values and recognition of complementary skills. This feeling
and recognition forms the basis for a shared identity, which is also mentioned as a
condition for interpersonal ﬂ ow (Snow 2010 ). In addition, other components could
also be shared with each other, if the precursors are optimally derived from the col-
lective ambition. (2) A sense of unity : A shared feeling that together the team forms
a unity by expressing the collective ambition of the team. The feeling of unity is
partly the result of setting aligned personal goals that each contribute to the com-
mon goal, which in turn is derived from the collective ambition. Team members
experience a sense of unity that is also consistent with Csikszentmihalyi’s ( 1990 )
notion of a loss of self- consciousness in the sense that one is not paying attention to
one’s own needs in favor of focusing on the activity at hand. Concordantly, Snow
( 2010 ) describes this effect as not feeling self-conscious with each other, and
Sawyer ( 2007 ) views it as a true blending of egos. (3) Trust : The shared feeling of
trust to accomplish the joint task together. This feeling arises because people feel
safe to act (i.e., no worry of failure) and they know exactly how they are doing
through the open form of communication that delivers the required feedback . This
feeling of being in control is described by Sawyer ( 2007 ) as having the autonomy to
take any ideas which come out and run with them based on their merits rather than
on being granted permission. Formally, trust is mostly deﬁ ned as: “the willingness
to be vulnerable” (Mayer et al. 1995 , 712), which reﬂ ects the willingness to accept
a limited degree of control over the ﬁ nal outcome and thus the readiness to depend
on the other team member(s). When there is trust, team members do not worry
about failure, and instead feel conﬁ dent to act because of the acceptance and sup-
port they receive to do their job (see also safety). They trust that their joint actions
will have a positive outcome whatever happens next. A team ﬂ ow experience feeds
team members’ perceptions of a safe climate in which to act, because they have
experience trusting each other’s capabilities to achieve a common task. This is in
line with the ﬁ ndings of Salanova et al. ( 2014 ) that believe in collective efﬁ cacy
predicts collective ﬂ ow over time, and that they are reciprocally related. (4) Sense
of joint progress : The shared feeling of making progress together in achieving the
goals and the cooperation with each other. This feeling arises because people join
forces (high skill integration) and communicate openly with each other. Because of
the open form of communication everybody knows exactly how they are doing
and what should be the next joint action (integration of high skills) in achieving
both their common and personal goals. (5) Holistic Focus : The realization that
there is a collective consciousness among team members to promote the collective
ambition, resulting in a shared focus on their cooperation and achievement of the
goals set. This form of ‘holistic focus,’ which is comparable with Snow’s ( 2010 )
condition ‘having total concentration on the shared activity,’ arises from a mutual
15 The Application of Team Flow Theory
commitment to the common goal and from that the concentration on allocated tasks
(Katzenbach and Smith 1993 ). The presence of the components for team ﬂ ow
determine whether and to what extent team ﬂ ow occurs.
Figure 15.1 , summarizing the discussion so far, shows the six precursors
(rectangles) to achieve team ﬂ ow and the components (ovals) that characterize the
shared experienced of team ﬂ ow. This ﬁ gure illustrates the relationships between
the precursors and the components. Taking into consideration team ﬂ ow theory, we
expect that a team ﬁ rst needs to determine their collective ambition , which operates
as starting point of ﬂ ow and turns into a component (shared identity) when all
precursors are met. The precursors mutual commitment and common goal primarily
determine the presence of the shared component holistic focus , the precursors
common goal and aligned personal goals mainly determine the presence of the
shared component sense of unity with the team , the precursors high skill integration
and open communication mainly determine the presence of the shared component
sense of joint progress , and the precursors open communication and safety mainly
determine the presence of the shared component trust .
15.4 Consequences of Team Flow
Team ﬂ ow provides team members with several consequences. In ﬂ ow, one is fully
dedicated to the task(s) at hand, with an intense focus and full concentration . The
performance of the task seems to go spontaneously without any effort (effortless
Fig. 15.1 Precursors and components of team ﬂ o w
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
action) (Csikszentmihalyi 1990 , 1996 ; Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi 2009 ). This
optimal experience in which one is intrinsically motivated to persist in their activi-
ties will logically lead to a better performance (Landhäußer and Keller 2012 ).
Experiencing ﬂ ow also provides satisfaction (Csikszentmihalyi 1990 , 1996 , 2004 ).
If ﬂ ow experiences go together (integrate) in a team environment, its members
help each other and to excel as a unit. In this respect, Aubé et al. ( 2014 ) found that
the ﬂ ow experience is positively related to team performance and this relationship
is mediated by team goal commitment and moderated by the level of information
exchange between team members. When team members share this feeling with each
other it intensiﬁ es the feeling (Walker 2010 ) and binds the team members together
more tightly (i.e., cohesion) (cf. Sawyer 2007 ; Widmeyer et al. 1986 ).
Perhaps most important: In ﬂ ow, people proceed in a situation of high challenge
where they have to show high (new) skills to control the situation (Asakawa 2004 ).
In these situations their ability to learn new things is greater because they have to
develop their skillset further in order to carry out the task to control the situation. The
presence of teammates greatly enhances such development by the direct possibility
of task feedback . The team members can correct themselves at both the individual
and team levels and, as such, there is development on both levels. Experiencing ﬂ ow
creates a desire for a new challenge (Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi 2009 ). In a
team, the desire for a new collective challenge can be even more intense because the
team ﬂ ow experience is of great signiﬁ cance (meaning) and therefore delivers more
intense satisfaction. When there are opportunities to fulﬁ ll these desires for new chal-
lenges, this could result in a great level of positive energy among team members.
15.5 Examples of the Team Flow Experience
Csikszentmihalyi ( 1990 ) has given several examples of ﬂ ow experiences while being
part of a team. The following example is about the work of surgeons (Csikszentmihalyi
1990 , p. 65): “ Surgeons say that during a difﬁ cult operation they have the sensation
that the entire operating team is a single organism , moved by the same purpose ; they
describe it as a “ ballet ” in which the individual is subordinated to the group perfor-
mance , and all involved share in a feeling of harmony and power .”
To provide more face-validity to our model of team ﬂ ow , and understand better
how the ﬂ ow conditions work in team environments we conducted several in depth
interviews and conducted case studies in different areas. In this chapter we will
brieﬂ y report some relevant citations that exemplify the team ﬂ ow theory. (Note
that, for privacy reasons, all names have been anonymized.)
15.5.1 Interview with a Member of a Successful Orchestra
In 2011 a group of musicians appeared in the Netherlands who were sold out for all
their concerts, performed at all important festivals and won almost every prize that
could be won in the Dutch music industry. Newspapers described the band as a
15 The Application of Team Flow Theory
bunch of musicians who were bouncing with optimal mutual chemistry, which also
characterizes our concept of team ﬂ ow . To ﬁ nd out what happened in this group, we
conducted an in-depth interview with one of their musicians who was one of the
rappers of the band. He recognized and agreed to our deﬁ nition of team ﬂ ow and
conﬁ rmed this with words as: “ As you describe it , we have certainly experienced it.
Both within the group and externally. There was a clear gradient in , because we
knew it was a temporary project ; we do it now , then quit and go on to the next proj-
ect. Afterwards , we pulled back together and we found that we are more a band than
we thought we were .” This quote also suggests that the team ﬂ ow experience gives
most team members the desire to reconvene as a team again. The rapper conﬁ rmed
that he experienced the band more as a team rather than a group. This is because of
the mutual accountability of a team that is not always present in a group. He said:
“ At such times you are creating moments where everybody feels that you must be
present and capture the moment. This feeling reaches everyone as a domino effect ,
you can go on then until ﬁ ve o ’ clock in the night. Whatever happens , this kind of
experiences triggers the feeling again , that these moments will happen more often ,
because everyone then realizes again what the strength of such a moment is. Living
this way is a prerequisite to make beautiful things !” About a safe environment he
continues: “ You must have trust in feedback , so that there is a connection which
you can build on .” This last statement exempliﬁ es the relation between open com-
munication and trust within the team ﬂ ow model. Moreover: “ The willingness to
bring the group to a higher level should always be more important than individual
progress. Of course there are ‘ egos ’ in the band , but they are extremely well good
positioned. The whole is more important than the individual in the group. This
allows you to grow as an individual. The band had everyone feel this way , the
different energy of all different members made sure that things were created by them
that they had never achieved before .” He also clearly mentioned that the context
where they play together is of great importance to achieve team ﬂ ow. “ It is a gather-
ing of variables , it has to do with the people in the group. Openness within the
group , spontaneity of yourself and your peers and simplicity of the moment are all
very important. It requires something for people who are part of the group not to be
too anxious , and dare to have a certain surrender to the moment. That is very
important to enforce that context again and again where ‘ things ’ happen .”
15.5.2 Interview with a CEO of a Successful Team-Based
This example is a home-care organization with small teams, consisting of (district)
nurses and nurses providing care at home. They started in 2006 and have grown to
a home care organization with more than 650 teams and 8,000 employees. The
decision to work with small, professional self-managing teams who focus on the
relationship with their client is the main reason for their success. We conducted an
interview with their business leader, and asked him how team ﬂ ow emerges in the
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
context of the self-managing teams: “ Flow in teams happens when you pursue the
same [ goal ] with each other , you do that with people who like to see each other ,
trust each other , then the energy goes to the right things , and then you do not have
to invest energy in all kind of things that do not matter. If you look at the people I
work with , these are all friendly relations , where there is a shared work experience
with each other , where we know each other well and can rely on each other , which
brings you very quickly to the essentials. We don ’ t have to talk about policy that you
see happening in a lot of organizations. You can work very instrumentally , and we
do not want to develop policies. So what we do is : If there is a problem which must
be solved , you look for the right people and set them together to do something
meaningful and then we get started ”. The reason why they have chosen for self-
managing teams is to create an optimal work environment for their employees. “ The
most optimal environment for our employees is one without bureaucracy. We try just
to be speciﬁ c in why we are there [i.e., raison d ’ être ], so that our employees can
focus on what they encounters. The context is guiding , and we try not to distract our
employees with too much overﬂ owing top - down communication .” To support teams
in their work the organization has not employed team leaders but only coaches,
which can be consulted on request. They do not want to lead teams but only support
them when needed. “ We continuously try to move along with our teams. There is a
great diversity among teams and you need to connect to the process of each team.
The coach needs to listen and ask on the basis of what is wise to do for the team. By
doing this , you see that teams in our organization develop their capacity to resolve
thing themselves. What we do need is a very clear framework on vision , content , and
way of working and we try to reach a clear shared understanding on those items
with our teams .”
In the examples above, you can read that during team ﬂ ow experiences members
are set challenging situations. Team members experience themselves as a unit with
one purpose [collective ambition] and where the individual is subordinated to the
team [aligned personal goals to the common goal] and all are contributing by deliv-
ering with their unique skillset [high skill integration]. The outcome is during a
team ﬂ ow experience often more than their expectations of it before, together with
intense satisfaction and a desire to reconvene.
For organizations, it is important to create an context together where people feel
safe to give themselves to the moment. Where they can be open and spontaneous
with their complementary skills, and where everybody commits to the common
purpose. In the next paragraph, we will discuss how to create an environment for
team ﬂ ow experiences.
15.6 The Team Flow Environment
It is difﬁ cult to build wellbeing at work, in large part because it is challenging to
ﬁ nd meaning in work (Wrzesniewski et al.
2003 ); it is important for people to care
about what they are doing and decide for themselves the contexts in which they will
15 The Application of Team Flow Theory
apply their effort, attention, care and connection. As such, a key component of
productivity in knowledge work is the creation of meaning. In teams, such meaning
has the potential to develop into an internalized raison d ’ etre that can translate into
a foundation for team ﬂ ow . Consequently, employers should invest in developing
and aligning collective, team, and personal ambitions for their organizations, and
make sure that this ﬁ t is a constant in the workplace.
For team ﬂ ow experiences, members of teams have to create an environment
where they are all committed to a collective ambition [common purpose] in a man-
ner that they all are able to experience ﬂ ow. Then, together they deﬁ ne the precur-
sors that ﬁ t to their collective ambition and support one another to keep each other
on track. Teamwork is not as easy as one thinks and organizations should be aware
that they need to invest extra resources to create a good performance climate.
From this, the precursors for team ﬂ ow help to derive guidelines and interventions
that could spark the presence of the team ﬂ ow experience. The precursors for team
ﬂ ow foster an environment (social system) for joint ﬂ ow experiences in teams. To
foster team ﬂ ow experiences in the workplace environment, it is useful to consider
which key precursors can be most easily facilitated by the team itself or the employer.
Therefore we extracted nine steps that teams could follow to design a team ﬂ ow
environment where the chance for team ﬂ ow experiences is more likely to occur.
1. Identify team members’ underlying motivations, shared values, and unifying
strengths that united them as a team and formulate a collective ambition .
2. Align from the collective ambition a concrete common goal that is achievable
and challenging and can be reached in a foreseeable period of time.
3. Set for each member of the team an aligned personal goal that also fosters mean-
ing, growth, and intrinsic motivation for each person.
4. Derive from the common and personal goals the tasks (roles) and responsibilities
into a clear process (strategy) in which each team member is able to execute his
or her personal strengths where together those strengths form a uniﬁ ed force
( integration of high skills ).
5. Optimize mutual feedback on process and outcome so that everyone knows how
(s)he is doing, as well as the team as a whole ( open communication ).
6. Create an environment in which one feels safe to act by eliminating unacceptable
risks and supporting each other with positive and encouraging feedback (safety).
7. Hold each other accountable to accomplish the tasks successfully with dedica-
tion and vigor. Keep each other on track by coaching each other on the task (feed
forward) and take care of the presence of the precursors for team ﬂ ow . ( mutual
8. Allow the team to function on its own (autonomous) and share experiences of unity,
trust, focus, progress, and identity and sometimes magic moments like team ﬂ ow .
9. Evaluate, reﬂ ect, and enjoy the moments of team ﬂ ow and reconvene for new
collective ambitions and shared goals .
The above steps can help to create a team ﬂ ow environment for business teams.
In addition, we have developed an instrument to measure the conditions and com-
ponents of team ﬂ ow. The name of this questionnaire is the Team Flow Monitor
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
(TFM) . By utilizing the TFM participants can determine which precursors are
present within their team and which are not. Together with their supervision or
support they can decide which interventions will be included in an action plan to
build a team ﬂ ow environment. Also, these results help to decide upon which pre-
cursors a team should start to intervene. For instance, when a team scores low on the
component ‘trust’ they might consider employing interventions that support ‘safety’
and/or ‘open communication’.
15.7 Discussion and Future Research
As noted above, the individual can generate the external conditions of ﬂ ow during
a solo activity (Csikszentmihalyi 1994 ). If we view external conditions as being
created by a participant in an activity, then an extension to the team level would
suggest that everyone participating in the activity has the ability to facilitate the
creation of the external conditions for ﬂ ow. For example, team members can set
goals , give and receive feedback on each other’s progress, and try to remove
distractions and unacceptable risks to maintain team members’ concentration and
focus. All these activities concern team interactions that involve members directing,
aligning, coordinating, and monitoring task work to achieve collective goals (Marks
et al. 2001 ), which is consistent with prior research that deﬁ nes teamwork as
comprising interpersonal interactions that are necessary to accomplish team goals,
such as exchanging information and coordinating actions (Bowers et al. 1997 ).
Teamwork differs from taskwork in that the latter implies an interaction with tasks,
tools, machines, and systems and teamwork interacts with other team members
(Bowers et al. 1997 ).
If the formation of a team is founded by the collective ambition of its members,
and together the team members design an environment to collaborate, team members
will instantiate the precursors for team ﬂ ow by themselves (if not, this is readily
guided). The precursors for team ﬂ ow can in turn help team members to express
their collective ambition in an efﬁ cient, effective, and personally-meaningful way,
which results in a better performance. As such, we conclude that the presence of a
strongly shared ‘collective ambition’ of a team has strong positive correlations with
the presence of all precursors for team ﬂ ow. Of course, future empirical studies
should be directed toward conﬁ rming such a conclusion.
So far, we focused on external conditions for individual ﬂ ow and precursors for
team ﬂ ow experiences. The multilevel theory of ﬂ ow suggests that individual ﬂ ow
is the foundation for team ﬂ ow and may exert a unique inﬂ uence on it, distinct from
team processes. So, the next step is to conceptualize a mechanism that may explain
this relationship. According to our view of ﬂ ow theory in a team context, individu-
als, as living open systems, need to perceive the external conditions to experience
ﬂ ow internally. In teams, fellow team members can help each other to create this
optimal environment for ﬂ ow experiences. The external conditions for ﬂ ow can be
designed and structured in the work environment by the individual, team members,
15 The Application of Team Flow Theory
and/or management, which is consistent with Katzenbach and Smith’s ( 1993 ,
p. 112) deﬁ nition of a team: “ a small number of people with complementary skills
who are committed to a common purpose , set of performance goals , and approach
for which they hold themselves mutually accountable ”. From this perspective, team
members are responsible for each other’s ﬂ ow experiences, and the interdependent
team members provide the external conditions for each other. This suggests that
when individual team members engage in opportunities for action, they spark ﬂ ow
experiences for each other by setting a social action system in which every single
team member in his/her personal task environment is surrounded by the external
conditions for ﬂ ow. The precursors prevent each individual’s set external conditions
from conﬂ icting with the establishment of others’ external conditions. In this way, it
is possible that everyone involved in the same activity is experiencing ﬂ ow during
the execution of his or her personal task.
Once team ﬂ ow emerges, a climate has a reality that is partly independent of
the individual actions that gave rise to it, and, as a collective property, it guides
individual and collective actions (Morgeson and Hofmann 1999 ). In the domain of
ﬂ ow, a supportive climate for ﬂ ow experiences may enhance team ﬂ ow and thus
acts as the process linking individual ﬂ ow and team ﬂ ow. To summarize we propose
that the average level of individual ﬂ ow in a team is positively related to the experi-
ence of the components of team ﬂ ow via a supportive climate (the presence of the
precursors altogether) for team ﬂ ow. This conclusion also provides an interesting
starting point for future research.
In conclusion, team ﬂ ow is characterized by a situation in which all the team
members are completely involved in their common activities as part of a collabora-
tion toward the common purpose. Team ﬂ ow can be considered a function of an
individual’s experience of ﬂ ow during the execution of one’s personal task in a
team context with three core aspects: (1) it is an individual team member who expe-
riences the mental state of ﬂ ow by executing his/her personal task; (2) the team
member derives ﬂ ow from the team dynamic which is structured by a collective
ambition that set the precursors which are shared goals (team and personal), high
skill integration, open communication, safety, and mutual commitment; and (3) team
members share a dynamic that reﬂ ects a state of ﬂ ow as a whole, which is character-
ized by ﬁ ve speciﬁ c components: trust, holistic focus, a sense of unity, a sense of
joint progress, and a shared identity [that expresses the collective ambition]. The
occurrence of team ﬂ ow leads to a meaningful experience and satisfaction for the
individual team members, which is probably stronger than experiencing solitary
ﬂ ow. Also, a desire to reconvene as a team and an extension of the team’s capability
are further consequences of team ﬂ ow.
To help people to experience more ﬂ ow it is important to build the conditions
for entering ﬂ ow in people’s work but also to teach and train them to be aware of
J.J.J. van den Hout et al.
conditions to let ﬂ ow be more likely to emerge. The whole in this case is deﬁ nitely
more than the sum of its parts. In addition, one must respect the fact that there are
personal and internal factors, over which limited control can be exercised, limiting
the emergence of the internal conditions. As such, a key point is that ﬂ ow cannot
occur on demand – indeed, attempts to control or force it often backﬁ re
(Csikszentmihalyi 1997 ; Gardner et al. 2001 ), but it is possible to set an environ-
ment where team ﬂ ow experiences are more likely to occur.
It is our hope that this theory can provide a common language for scholars and
practitioners, and shed light on unanswered questions in the literature relevant to
ﬂ ow and work teams. We submit this model to the research and practitioner com-
munities in the hopes that they will partner with us to ﬁ nd the most effective ways
to enable the highest levels of team performance.
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