Tenets of Management Design: The manager can do a lot to improve “flow”

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience popularized the concept of “flow” and its importance.   So let’s talk about a manager and “flow”.  Managers can do a lot to improve flow, and good managementdesign,benefits from being highly focused on encouraging “flow” in the workplace.  The more your employees have flow, the more likely they are to produce some pretty amazing stuff.   So shouldn’t your management design be focused on improving the “flow” of the employees?

That means fewer disruptions, enabling longer stretches of greater focus.  Here are some ideas for managers to improve flow:

The manager can start by not being a distraction.  How many times have we had a manager who interrupts our work with both minor questions or new requests for work?  With the advent of email, chat, texts, and any other communication mediums including actually stopping by, perhaps the worst offenders are managers who are in the habit of interruptingtheir employees.   So good management design would encourage managers not to interrupt employees who are likely to be closer to “flow state.”  If the employee seems to be in deep concentration, this is definitely the sign that the employee is not available to be interrupted.   If the employee is not responding to emails, this is a sign that the employee is in a focused activity.  The manager should have predictable times when they interact with their employees.

The manager can avoid breaking up the day with meetings.  Many managers have been observed to schedule lots of meetings.  And if an employee has a long stretch of time on their calendar that has no meetings, this should indicate that there is a higher likelihood that the employee can find “flow”, and should not have something scheduled.  For many employees, there is nothing more precious than a day (or even an afternoon) not interrupted by meetings.

The manager can “bunch” requests rather then dripping them in.   Managers can interrupt employee output by asking for more output.  Compare a manager who says at the beginning of the week, “I need the following five things this week from the team.”  Now compare that to the manager who sends an email once a day over 5 days with the same requests.   The manager who provides the expectations in advance would allow the employees to coordinate and develop those five things, and possibly get them done quickly at higher quality, allowing them to work on non-manager requests the rest of the time.   Fewer interruptions, fewer surprise requests, and more flow on the part of the employees.   Also, the manager who is restrained from making new, daily requests of his employees will make fewer requests, the requests that are made will be the ones that are most needed, and the core non-manager request work will get done more.   Also, it should be stated, employees who are more likely to be in “flow” will come up with ideas, inspiration, work products and whatever else that likely exceeds any “top down” request by the manager.

Managers who are sensitive to and seek to optimize the chances that their employees obtain flow are going to be appreciated by the employees who need to concentrate to get their work done.  And the employees are more likely to approximate toward that “optimum” experience Mr. Csikszentmihalyi writes about.

So a tenet of management design is to assure that managers encourage “flow.”  And the first start would be to find ways to get managers to not interrupt or distract their employees.  Good designs can achieve this, and the absence of design will get what we have now:  Managers who feel comfortable interrupting with requests, meetings, questions, and anything else.

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Tenets of Management Design: Managers are created not found

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


One Response to “Tenets of Management Design: The manager can do a lot to improve “flow””
  1. bomzasxxl says:

    Sometimes I have a feeling that managers and employees found new method of protecting their agenda from interuptions – they simply book their calendars with meetings full day week or two ahead…
    I think it’s very good advice for managers to “bacth their requests”, although in my opinion managers need maintain as much contact with employees as possible, but not for the purpose issuing new tasks.

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