The Flow of We

The goal of a good team is continuous flow. Continuous Flow of what? Some say, “value”. Not so fast. Value is a function of We.

There is a “state of flow”. We think of this flow as an individual state, where personal productivity soars as time passes very quickly for a single person, where that person enters a slightly altered state of consciousness. That is an individual concept.

Some are talking about how, in the industrial revolution, We measured productivity by the widgets-per-day count, and how We are now 100% out of the industrial revolution. So far so good. Now,  these same folks argue that the new widget, the thing to measure, is something called flow. I totally disagree with using flow as the unit of measure of productivity, because flow as defined in pop-culture is an individual concept, not a collective concept.

In the modern world of work, productivity is a macro-property of teams, not individuals.

What really needs to be measured is the group-level flow of We or We-flow.


The Flow… of We

We is the collective sense that all of us (in the group) have substantial alignment, and that we all know what we are collectively doing. Alignment is the sense that We agree on some specific ideas, such as core values, that guide our collective and individual actions. So, flow is a pop-culture concept that applies to individuals. We is a collective sense. Flow of We is that flow of a collectively held sense of alignment.

Still with me? Flow of We is that exact same pop-culture individual-flow concept, experienced as a team. The flow of We has several subsidiary flows, or constituent parts:

  • We-Communication. This is the flow of Sending and Receiving at the level of We. It is verbal, and non-verbal. Think serendipitous interactions.
  • We-Knowledge. Knowledge flow requires We-Communication flow. This flow includes knowledge of the work, and each other.
  • We-Feelings. The flow of this social substance increases and can substantially accelerate flow of We-Knowledge.
  • We-Awareness. The flow of this social substance raises the level of consciousness of the group, resulting in more flow of We overall.

These elements manifest the overall flow of We. When one of these subsidiary flows gets clogged, the We-flow can suddenly stop. Reduced flows of the 4 elements above can literally stop the flow of We.

When it stops, it is a symptom that We have some fundamental problems with our team. Our sense of shared vision is diminished. This is what happens when Scrum and Kanban break down as devices. Scrum, Kanban and all the rest offer the possibility but not the promise of a flow of We. From the flow of We comes a nearly-guaranteed flow of insanely great products and services.

In the modern world of work, being great means being great with others. Greatness is being in the flow of We.

When the flow of We is continuous, you have a genius team. Jim and Michele McCarthy argue that average people can form a collective We-genius, at will, in the form of a team. I tend to agree. When you get there, you get flow at the level of team: time passes quickly, productivity soars, there is collective immersion.

The McCarthys often talk about how We no longer have to wait 30-35 years for individual geniuses like Einstein, Mozart, Freud or Jobs to show up and make a dent in the universe for us. Instead, We can make that dent in that universe right now, by building genius teams with currently available and well-understood socio-technologies like Core Protocols, Triads, Kanban, etc.

There are specific socio-technologies that can be used to increase the flow of We. These include Kanban, Scrum, Lean, Core Protocols and other practices with specific names.

Note that Kanban “Classes of Service” are a key device for generating both flow of We and the derivative flow of value so often discussed in Kanban circles. Likewise Scrum can help teams create insanely great products, by the same method: creating a steady flow of We on the team. Scrum encourages the flow of We through its mechanisms of the Daily Scrum, Retrospective etc.

This is somewhat stilted since Scrum has a start/stop nature by virtue of iterations. Thus Scrum is training wheels to help begin generating a flow of We in teams. Both Scrum and Kanban are used in teams and organizations with alignment problems. If they have good alignment, the We is flowing and in theory, there is no need for Scrum or Kanban.  Since these flows are almost nonexistent on most teams, we must use these devices. When we do, we get some good results right away, but not because these are great technologies. Rather it is because our We-flow is nonexistent. The subsidiary flows of Communication, Knowledge, Feelings and Awareness are low or otherwise not working well.

Scrum, Kanban and other social/team technology is just the starting point. Remember, team learning is not random. You have to intend it. If you have no intent to learn together, you literally have no shot at doing so. Teams that want to be great find the coaches and technologies and techniques they require to achieve their aims. And often, the great coaches find them.

That’s just the way it works.

Related Post: Team Learning is Not Random