Flow in Sparkling Agile teams

In my blog last month, I stated that Agile organisations are ‘sparkling’ organisations. I cannot imagine a situation where a genuine Agile organisation does not sparkle because I believe that a true Agile mindset is uplifting, engaging and passion generating.

What is sparkling?

I asked the question: “what words come to mind, when you think about sparkling?” Thanks so much for all your answers! Fun, energy, passion, spirit and trust were the most mentioned words. But also purpose, focus, creativity, courage. You can see all the words in the wordcloud I created based upon your answers.

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Some of you also shared your thoughts on the conditions needed to become sparkling as a team. That was about really making progress and adding value, about being proud of the work you deliver, about the right balance between freedom, responsibility and trust.


This makes me think on the concept of Flow as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”

There are three main conditions for individuals to reach a state of flow. First – the goal of your efforts has to be very clear. Second – it’s important to continuously notice that you are making progress towards that goal. And third – the work must be challenging, but doable. For me personally, building a new website often brings me in a state of flow: I know what I want to create, every time I hit enter I can check if I’m making progress, I’m not an expert but google is my friend and eventually I get there … usually after midnight 🙂. Afterwards, I am able to really relax and enjoy the work I did.

Sparkling teams in Flow

Based on your reactions, I believe that this concept of Flow can also be applied to teams. Focus, work hard, deliver value, get positive feedback and then enjoy, relax and have fun: sparkle!

So, how can we translate the conditions for Flow to Agile teams? I will use Scrum-terminology to explain my thoughts on this.

First – the goal of your efforts has to be very clear. This is about having a clear goal every sprint. The team commits itself to delivering the stories in the sprint backlog and the team knows why these stories have priority. It is important that the Product Owner continuously stresses and illustrates the importance of the work on-hand, as part of the bigger picture.

Second – it’s important to continuously notice that you are making progress towards this goal. The daily standup is a good moment to get this feedback, looking at the burndown-chart, showing progress on a day-to-day basis. And finally reaching the sprint goal should be rewarding: I love the view of a Product Owner at the finish-line of a sprint, cheering and applauding about the work delivered.

And third – the work must be challenging, but doable. Agile teams are always looking for improvement, they stretch themselves to become better every sprint, raise the bar in terms of velocity and quality. Ideally, this will lead to situations in which reaching the sprint goal is always challenging. If it’s too easy, the team will get bored. If it’s too hard, to team will encounter stress.

What blocks teams from getting into Flow?

When we understand the conditions to get into Flow, we can also look at circumstances which block teams to get into Flow.

In my experience, it is enormously frustrating when during a sprint things happen (outside the control of the team) which shifts the sprint goal or impacts the possibility to finish all the stories. This is disturbing and blocks the team to get into Flow. For example – during a sprint a team-member is assigned to work on a high-priority issue outside of the team. Or a high-in-rank manager asks the team to deliver extra input for an important audit. Or anything else which impacts the focus of the team. Even if it is completely understandable that in these cases the team does not meet the sprint goal, this is still disturbing. It might also give the signal that the team was not working on something of high importance. I’ve seen this happen too often, and this is in my opinion one of the biggest energy-drains for teams.

Please share your thoughts: according to your experience, what circumstances block Agile teams to get into Flow and sparkle? And what can we do to avoid this?

Vincent Snijder is an experienced leader. He embraces the Agile mindset to create sparkling organizations - adaptive to change and a great place to work.

Vincent is partner at Inspinity.