“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

We have all been there. We are fully concentrated on an activity, and suddenly it is past 3pm, we have missed lunch, and maybe even forgot to pick up our kids. But we feel great! We feel a sense of fulfillment from the achievement of this task, and we feel proud. This is a flow state, a high-performance experience.

According to the model developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in “The Psychology of engagement with everyday life”, there are two vectors that are used to assess the level of optimal performance:

1-   Challenge: how challenging is the task at hand?

2-   Skills: do you have the required skills to perform such a task?

The intersection of “high challenge level” and “high skill level” is the state of optimal performance, also known as the flow state.


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In practice, to test the level of performance of your team and its members, start a one-on-one conversation by asking them about their current task or project at hand, with ‘1’ referring to low levels, and ’10’ to high levels:

Question 1: On a level of 1 to 10, how challenging is the project you are working on?

Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how adequate do you feel regarding your level of skills required to complete the project?

You can plot the answers on both axes and determine where that member of the team falls. Research suggests that the further from the state of flow in the upper right-hand corner, and the closer to the state of apathy in the lower left corner, the further your team member will be from performing at optimal levels for their personal satisfaction and your company results.

As a team leader think about what can you do to improve the situation and move your constituents to the upper-right hand corner of the diagram. Here are a few questions to consider, optimally in one-on-one conversations, and based on the answers tailor a solution aimed at increasing their skill and challenge levels:

  • What is important for you to get out of this project?
  • How can I support you to get the most out of your experience on this project?
  • What skills do you bring to this project?
  • What can I do to help you sharpen and strengthen your other skills?
  • How can this project be the “best project” you have worked on yet?
  • How can we improve the teamwork on this project?

Depending on the individual answers, you can invest time and energy in crafting the right plan to challenge and strengthen the skills of your team members, helping them achieve the desired “flow state”.

Multiple moments of flow determine our happiness levels. If you would like to build a stellar team, you need to maximize their chances of having multiple moments of flow by challenging them and gently pushing them beyond the limits of their skill set.

Remember, if your constituents aren’t learning and developing on the job, they are likely to look for better opportunities elsewhere.

If you would like to listen to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk or read his article about optimal flow states, please go to: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/