Group Flow: 5 triggers to help your team work together

Brainstorming is a word creative people like to toss around, but do we actually know how to be effective in our brainstorming sessions? I want to introduce a concept from Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's book, BOLD in which they explore the idea of "creative flow." It's this mystical state of being where ideas fuse seamlessly, your focus is locked and you're producing your best work with an alarming speed and creative vision. Except that it's not mystical. It's completely real. In a previous post I looked at six triggers, both environmental and psychological, that will throw you into a state of flow.

  1. High consequences
  2. Rich environment
  3. Deep Embodiment
  4. Clear Goals
  5. Immediate Feedback
  6. The Challenge/Skills Ratio

In this post, let's explore this concept from a team perspective: Group flow.

What are the key factors that take a generic "brainstorming session" or group work environment and turn it into a powerhouse of creativity, innovation and efficiency? The following factors are in addition to those discussed in the post about individual flow - if you haven't read that one already, go ahead and read it first. The six principles outlined in that post are the building blocks of flow that carry over into group flow.

Finding Your Flow: 6 Triggers that Enhance Creativity and Productivity


1. Familiarity

When you're working on a project with a group of diverse people who have no common language, background, knowledge base or experience, your time cannot be devoted toward high-intensity creative work. Simply communicating clearly is a challenge and distracts from the group's team-working dynamic. Instead, aligning yourself with a group of people who are familiar with the work at hand, have similar training and knowledge of the field and share common experiences helps break down the barrier of communication and allows ideas and concepts to flow freely and be grasped quickly.


2. Blending Egos

When a team of people are all trying to prove themselves to their teammates, each is trying to do more than they can handle, perform skills others are better suited for and take credit where credit isn't due. Once a team is united around a single purpose with the understanding that everyone is crucial, no one will be overlooked and everyone will share the credit, the team can function at their peak as their egos blend into one collective ego.


3. Sense of Control

As egos blend, each team member begins to focus on what he or she does best and backs away from the skills that others are best at. It builds an economy of mastery within the group. Not only does this allow the team to produce the best work possible, but it also allows each member of the team to take ownership of their respective parts.


4. Close Listening

Close listening occurs when ideas are being born out of the sheer need to get it out and in the open so that it can be examined. It's a natural, steady stream of dialog, each idea building on the last and unearthing the answers to the problems ahead. No one is wrong. No idea is bad. It's brainstorming at its best.


5. Always say "yes, and..."

Negativity within a brainstorming session is the equivalent of driving a car, picking up speed and as soon as you hit 60mph, slamming on the breaks, changing direction and slowly regaining speed. It halts the process and forces the chain of idea generation to start over and build momentum again. Saying an idea "won't work" or that it's the "wrong direction" or "we can't pull that off" all have the same effect - 60mph to 0mph in a few seconds. Rather, if we approach brainstorming from a "yes, and..." mentality, we're acknowledging the creative value of an idea even if it won't work or is going in the wrong direction or we don't have the ability to pull it off. It says, "I see where you're coming from..." to the team member who had the idea. But from there, it allows the other team members to build on that idea, redirect it or add a level of feasibility to the project. "Yes, I love that idea! What if, instead of process X we use process Y - I think we might get some cool results!"


Group flow is an important part of any business, organization or group. It unmasks the little things like ego and negativity that tend to get in the way of flourishing relationships and allows creative minds to meld and sharpen one another. While some of these things like familiarity aren't always under your control, others such as "Yes, and..." and Close Listening can be! Don't get in the way of creative flow - use these five triggers to intentionally encourage and mature it.

 Jacob Jolibois is a writer and life coach helping others to craft a simple, yet impactful life. He’s the author of ARROWS | a primer on missional lifestyle design, a contributor to Lifehack and a photographer/designer at MESH.