6 Organizational Flow State Enablers

Now after having investigated what can trigger flow in individuals (link to blog post 3), let’s take a look at how organizations can create environments in which a collective of thousands of people can achieve states of flow, together. Organizational high performance flow derives from the synergy when many purpose-driven and in-flow talents come together to co-create for a bigger impact.

The ultimate possibility and responsibility for the flow state to happen, lies within the individuals. Still, there are critical organizational design elements which either facilitate or inhibit the collective flow. We  have found the following six organizational design elements most significant for the people to become more creative, get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and energy. Along with the flow enablers comes a set of “flow killers” to avoid.

For a CEO, CHRO or any change catalyst trying to up the game of your organization,  before investing into “flow enablers” make sure that there are no “flow killers” at play because these will counteract all efforts profoundly.

On smaller screens table is scrollable


The Why Organizational mission is limited to:

  • Profit and shareholder value maximization;
  • Win-lose competition, exploitation of stakeholders;
  • Hard sales of product and services with the objective to influence to buy (rather than real
    value based marketing);
  • Harm to the environment to maximize profit.
  • Evolutionary “beyond-the-profit” purpose. Profit remains the lifeblood of the
    company. However what drives the company forward, brings innovation and drives decision making –
    is a purpose that aims at creating a meaningful impact in the world.
  • Stakeholder value maximization based on common purpose. This includes
    win-win-win relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, partners and
    the environment.

TIP: Involve all employees into the development of the corporate purpose and integrate
stakeholder value proposition into it. Revisit “Taking Stakeholder Capitalism from
Principles to Practice
” from WEF 2020.

  • People are viewed as resources who need to be managed by command and control
    (the concepts originated from 1920s industrial revolution)
  • Relationships and collaboration are based on hierarchy and fixed functional
    . Meetings are dominated by those with highest in hierarchy and loudest voice.
  • Annual performance and  employee engagement management with no or few touch
    points in between. Feedback is only given “downwards” from managers to employees, not among
  • People are expected to work fixed hours in the office except when major
    emergencies occur e.g. COVID.
  • People are viewed as self-led growth and innovation drivers. Autonomy is
    considered one of the most important factors to enable flow state and creativity in Neuroscience
    as well as in business research. Companies with high levels of self-leadership grow 4 times faster.
  • In future-fit companies, there are no employees – only leaders!
  • Relationships and collaboration are based on common purpose, real
    business needs and flexible roles
    . Agile collaboration and meeting rituals to
    facilitate everyone’s contribution and learning e.g. check-ins, check-outs, Kanban, Scrum,
    Retrospectives, appreciation circles, consent based decision making etc.
  • Real-time tech enabled peer feedback, engagement surveys and tensions handling;
    self-selected coaches; regular self-reflection
  • People can freely choose where and when they can work most effectively.

TIP: Implement a truly human-centered self-leadership based business model where
everyone acts as an entrepreneur in their roles.

  • High degree of internal politics and unspoken rules that stir up fear an keep people from
    speaking up
  • Set of fixed corporate values which only show up on posters but are not lived
  • Set of fixed “corporate competencies and behaviors”
  • Finger pointing or “blame games”, internal competitions and “mistakes seeking” culture
  • High degree of trust and psychological safety
  • Common values aligned with the evolutionary purpose which serve as a basis for talent
    acquisition, collaboration and departures
  • Inclusive, mutual empowerment based culture encouraging people to show up as whole and authentic
  • Rapid learning culture with  “fail forward” mantra

TIP: Complete an assessment here (add link to future-fit org survey) to find out how
future-fit is your organization in terms of culture and leadership practices.

  • High degree of hierarchy-based power, top-down decision-making or a structure that hinders fast
    problem solving and responding to changes
  • Fixed Job Descriptions
  • Work in silos
  • Responsive organizations that are designed in self-managed circles who can anticipate and
    respond to any internal and external changes such as customer needs, new technologies etc.
  • Flexible roles based on real business and personal growth needs

TIP: Depending on your organizational purpose and strategy, design your own
self-management based model. Elewus can provide a big picture overview (link to FoW Workshop) of the
existing approaches such as Holocracy, Sociocracy, Teal etc.

Processes & Rules
  • Fixed high maintenance processes and policies
  • Slow hierarchical decision making and central innovation processes
  • Continuously improving agile processes and rules based on peer feedback and tensions handling
  • Everyone is a “change catalyst” and can initiate and implement ideas, enabled by rapid decision

TIP: Consider using different decision making processes based on the impact and
complexity of decisions e.g. full consensus, consent based or advice based decision making.

Information Flow
  • Data secrecy – information access is based on the hierarchical power
  • Full data transparency – information about company’s performance, financials, future plans etc
    is available in real-time to all employees

TIP: Consider easy and fun to use communication technology to synergize and share data
with others e.g. Miro, Mural, Slack, Trello etc.

Does Investing Into Flow State Environment in Organizations Pay Off?

For leaders who currently work for traditional hierarchical corporates, these design elements can seem like an utopia, not to mention the huge change effort. At the same time, there are thousands of purpose-driven, human-centered and self-management based companies globally who have already gone through this transformation. Most successful start-ups as they grow have decided for agile self-management organizational models. Research shows that such companies significantly outperform traditional corporates, especially at a time of crisis. Here are some facts:

  • Only 11% of the hierarchical companies that made up the Fortune 500 in 1955 are still on the list today, Gary Hamel, Michel Zanini, Humanocracy, 2020
  • Removing the bureaucratic deadweight in the OECD economy and instead have management levels re-focus on the productive and innovative activities, would increase the GDP output by 10 USD trillion, Gary Hamel, Michel Zanini, Humanocracy, 2020
  • Purpose-driven companies generate 17 % higher financial results. IMD-CSM study “Corporate Purpose Impact”, 2010
  • Purposeful, value-driven companies outperform their counterparts in stock price bya factor of 12.  John Kotter and James Heskett, Harvard Business School, Corporate Culture and Performance, 2011
  • Conscious Capitalism oriented companies such as Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, Barry-Wehmiller, Patagonia, IKEA analysed from 1996 to 2011 outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of 10.5. Raj Sisodia, Firms of Endearment, 2014
  • Companies with high levels of self-leadership grow 4 times faster. Cornell University, Jed DeVaro, 2006
  • As an example, Buurtzorg, a Dutch self-managed health services provider outperforms its competitors by 30% higher client satisfaction, 50% less employee turnover and 67% less central overhead costs. If Buurtzorg was to provide all home care in the Netherlands, the Dutch economy would save EUR2 billion a year. Stefan Crirkovic, Center for Public Impact Case Study, 2018
  • Frontify, among other globally successful technology start-ups applies a truly human-centerd, high autonomy, high responsibility working culture – has risen investments of  >20mln USD and has employed 200+ global talents, while continuing to rapidly grow.

As we are moving away from the industrial age management models, it becomes essentially the task of leadership to sense and steer the flow of the organizational energy. Has your company  designed the best possible talent experience and environment to enable sustainable high-performance, creativity and growth?

If yes, congratulations – chances are high that the company will thrive in the “new normal”, will be better equipped to deal with any upcoming crisis and come up with great value-adding innovations along the way!

If the answer is no or you’re not quite there yet, then the first step is done – you acknowledge it!  What’s clear is that there is no blueprint that works for all, so why not co-design the future together with the cross-functional change catalysts in your company? 

Whatever your path may look like, it should not start with hiring an expensive consultancy firm that conducts 200 interviews and then dumps 300 slides on you and leaves you to do the “roll-out” by yourself. If you’re interested in a more agile, yet integrated and pragmatic approach, do get in touch, and let’s run a Future of Work Design Sprint workshop (add link). Perhaps the new human-centered business model enabling sustainable high performance that you’re aiming for is closer than you think? Let’s talk!

References & Further Resources:

Buurtzorg: Revolutionising Home Care in the Netherlands, Center for Public Impact Case Study, Stefan Crirkovic, 2018

Corporate Culture and Performance, Harvard Business School, John Kotter and James Heskett, 2011

Corporate Purpose Impact 2010, IMD-CSM,  Burson-Marsteller, 2010

Create a Work Environment That Fosters Flow, Harvard Business Review, Steven Kotler, 2019

Creative Thinking and the Brain, Harvard Medical School, Shelley Carson, 2010

Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia, David B. Wolfe, Jag Sheth, 2014

Flow Genome Project – an assessment from the Flow Genome Project to find your personal “flow profile”, developed by professional athletes, Fortune 500 business leaders and scientists

Flow, the Secret to Happiness, TED Talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, 2004

Humanocracy, Gary Hamel, Michel Zanini, 2020

Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work, McKinsey Quarterly, Susie Cranston and Scott Keller, 2014

Taking Stakeholder Capitalism from Principles to Practice, WEF 2020, Richard Samans and Jane Nelson

Teams, Autonomy, and the Financial Performance of Firms, Cornell University, Jed DeVaro, 2006

The Healing Organization, Raj Sisodia, Michael J. Gelb, 2019

Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux, 2014

How futureFIT are you as a leader?

Fill out this 7-minute assessment to check how you compare among other leaders globally
and receive personal feedback.

This test is specifically focusing on your self-leadership skills.