Flow state: Optimize learning and development for tech teams
When teams enter a flow state while upskilling, they experience complete concentration, clarity, and confidence. Learn how to trigger these benefits in your team.
Aug 11, 2023 • 5 Minute Read
- Engineering Leadership
- Team Development
- Learning & Development
Think about a time when you were fully immersed in an activity. Maybe you were exercising, painting, coding, writing, or playing an instrument. Whatever you were doing, you felt deeply focused, engaged, and content.
You may have said you were “in the zone,” but another phrase also describes your experience: flow state.
Flow state makes whatever you’re doing feel effortless, and it works for learning, too. If your tech teams enter a state of flow when learning new skills, they’ll learn faster—and have fun doing it.
Here’s how you can facilitate flow for your tech team and optimize their learning experience.
What is flow state and why is it important for upskilling?
Flow state is often referred to as “being in the zone.” Flow state occurs when a task aligns with someone’s skills and expertise but also provides a challenge. The balance between skill and challenge level heightens the learner’s concentration and makes the task rewarding.
Lauren Ammons, Pluralsight Learning Solutions Architect, explains flow state in the context of learning and development. “When learners are in a state of flow, they experience a sense of complete absorption in the learning process, leading to enhanced motivation, improved performance, and a higher level of skill acquisition.”
Benefits of flow state
Flow state impacts tech teams beyond their initial learning. A team in flow state may experience:
Continuous learning: Learners who experience flow state are more likely to seek out new challenges and develop their skills as their expertise grows.
Accelerated learning: During flow state, learners are more receptive to new information. This makes it easier for them to acquire new skills and knowledge.
Improved creativity and problem solving: As learners enhance their skills, they’re more likely to explore innovative solutions to overcome technical obstacles.
Heightened calm and focus: Learners in a state of flow feel a sense of calm and focus, which reduces stress and anxiety levels. As a result, technologists feel more comfortable taking risks and experimenting with new ideas.
9 ways to enable flow state for tech teams
There’s no foolproof way to trigger flow state during the learning and development process. But there are several things you can do to make it easier for your teams to enter a state of flow.
1. Create a supportive learning environment
If employees lack psychological safety or support from leaders, they may worry about taking time to upskill. They may also be hesitant to apply their learning on the job and try out new ideas.
Create a calm, supportive environment that encourages learning and embraces failure as part of the process. “Stress and anxiety can deter learners from entering a flow state,” Lauren shares. “The safety to fail is vital and just so important in facilitating true learning. If this doesn’t exist, learners can’t slip into flow state.”
2. Define clear learning and development goals
30% of technologists don’t know where to focus their skill development, and 25% aren’t sure which learning resources to use. “Learners should have clear, meaningful, and achievable goals that provide direction and purpose to their learning journey,” says Lauren.
Meaningful goals ensure tech teams know what skills to learn and how those skills will contribute to their team’s or organization’s success. Goals also give technologists a way to track their progress and create a sense of accomplishment.
3. Give learners meaningful instructions
After you identify learning goals, provide clear instructions to help tech teams achieve them. “Clear and concise instructions reduce cognitive load and help learners understand the expectations and requirements of the learning task,” explains Lauren.
With instructions, learners can focus on immersing themselves in the learning experience rather than worrying if they’re learning the right thing.
4. Encourage autonomy
While it’s important to define learning goals and instructions, it’s also important to give technologists control over the learning process. Allowing them to choose their own learning paths and topics will increase their motivation and engagement.
“Adult learners want to select learning that is relevant and meaningful to them,” says Lauren. “If they have no say, they’re not invested, and they’re a lot less likely to enter a flow state during learning.”
5. Provide challenging tasks
If a task is too easy, learners may become bored. If a task is too difficult, learners may feel frustrated. Neither experience facilitates flow state.
To create a state of flow in your tech teams, you need to match the complexity of a learning activity with the learners’ skills, experience, and knowledge. The activity should be challenging enough to engage the learner but not enough to discourage them from learning. “Finding the right balance promotes engagement and flow,” explains Lauren.
You can modify the difficulty throughout the learning process. For example, instructors often adjust the complexity of hands-on activities based on real-time feedback from their learners.
6. Reduce distractions
According to research from the University of California Irvine, it takes about 25 minutes to refocus after being distracted. Distractions don’t just hinder immersion—they also waste valuable time. Because of this, minimizing distractions is critical to facilitating flow state for technologists.
Give your tech teams dedicated learning time when they can turn off notifications and focus solely on their skill development. If you’re struggling to help them make time to learn, consider automating certain tasks and building upskilling opportunities into existing projects.
7. Offer immediate feedback
27% of technologists like instructor-led training because they can ask questions and get help right away if they’re stuck. If learners don’t understand a concept, they can’t move to the next module or activity. This pulls them out of the learning experience and prevents them from experiencing a state of flow.
“Regular and immediate feedback is crucial for learners to assess their progress and adjust their efforts accordingly,” says Lauren. When they can ask questions and get feedback immediately, they know where to focus their attention and can maintain their momentum.
8. Encourage engagement through immersive experiences
Video content provides a starting point for learning new technical skills, but tech teams also want practical applications. In fact, most technologists say hands-on experiences are the most effective at preparing them to apply new learning on the job.
Why? Immersive experiences allow tech teams to engage with learning material on a deeper level. “Active engagement in the learning process is essential to foster flow,” explains Lauren. “To do that, learners need opportunities to apply their knowledge in practical and meaningful ways.”
Examples of immersive learning experiences include:
9. Foster collaboration
Even if team members are learning different skills or topics, they can inspire and motivate each other along their learning journeys. This collaboration can lead to a collective flow state and positive learning environment.
Study groups and course clubs are one way to bring learners together and encourage collaboration. Academies, hackathons, and group projects also help technologists apply their learning while boosting teamwork.
Flow state promotes learning (and retaining) tech skills
“When learners experience the flow state, they are more likely to be motivated, enjoy the learning process, and achieve optimal learning outcomes,” says Lauren.
The more you can build flow state practices into the learning and development process, the more likely your tech teams will retain the skills they learn and use them to drive your business forward.