Think back to when you were last in flow – when you were engaging in your favourite hobby, and time just flew and you felt like a new person after.
- Set clear goals – from the objective (number of units inspected) to the emotive (feeling motivated and respected at work); and from the externally-applied to the internally-driven. The second one is especially important to draw out from each worker. Ideally these can be aligned with the organisation’s (external) goals.
- Give immediate feedback – i.e. shorten the action-feedback cycle. Workers need to know how well they are doing regularly, especially when new to a task. Over time, consistent, constructible and respectful feedback will enable workers to become experts in what they do, where they instinctively know when something is right or not.
- Set a good balance between opportunity and capacity – is the person doing the work over- or under-qualified for the tasks? By qualification here I mean psychologically as well as skills-wise. Someone who is over-capable will feel bored. Someone thrown in too deep will be anxious. Neither are conditions for flow. You need to understand the workers, monitor their growth, and increase the challenges appropriately.
- Allow time for concentration to deepen – true multitasking is perhaps an illusion as our brains still essentially work on one thing at a time. Schedules need to allow sufficient time for workers to “get into” each activity long enough to be immersed in it. Flitting around madly on many different things may look productive, but that ultimately creates stress, not flow. Allowing time to get into the work so only the now matters.
- Allow the worker be in control – flow can only happen when a worker feels that she is in control of her work. The culture of the organisation need to respect each worker , to trust and enable them to be in control of the tasks they have to perform. This naturally relates to the setting of clear goals and expectations, and the provision of constructive and supportive feedback.
There are interesting similarities with Deming’s Principles...
I am certainly not pretending that this short piece is the be-all and end-all of the ultimate way to design work! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, please post them below!