During a presentation at TedX Charleston on March 29, a neurologist at the Medical University of South Carolina said he regularly experiences an almost higher state of being while working with his team — everyone working together seamlessly, blending roles in an “unconscious state of peak human performance.”
He described what he believes is the formula for unlocking this level of team performance that can be applied to any industry.
In his personal life, Dr. Alejandro Spiotta, a thought leader in the field of neurosurgery, utilizes “Flow State” to complete long-distance endurance events like Ironman 70.3 triathlons. But life is rarely an individual sport. Spiotta’s presentation applied the same practical methods he uses in his personal success to improving a team's success.
His simple equation had TedX attendees thinking about two aligning factors that could unlock a team’s potential.
According to Spiotta, aligning a team of people boils down to two factors on a graph. The vertical Y axis represents preparedness and skill. The X axis represents challenge and difficulty.
An upward diagonal line directly between the two, keeping both the factors in direct proportion to one another, is what he calls Team Flow state.
Spiotta says the magic formula is simple: Even with all the skill and preparation, if an individual is not challenged, boredom ensures. Adversely, if there is a difficulty or challenge and a person is not prepared or acquire the skills to complete it, that person will be stressed and overwhelmed.
The top of right corner of the graph, when maximum skill and preparation and maximum challenge and difficulty is achieved simultaneously, Spiotta calls amazing.
How does this translate to business? Employers should make a conscious effort to onboard and train employees to obtain the skills and preparation for the job and then task them with meaningful and challenging work to naturally achieve a team flow state.
For this formula to work, “the job must have meaning for the (employee),” said Spiotta.
During this unconscious team flow state, co-worker roles can — and do — naturally overlap, with everyone stepping up (or stepping aside) for the good of the outcome.
Spigotta used an example of his team’s peak Team Flow state during an emergency six-hour brain surgery on a pregnant woman who had been shot in the head.
“There was only a five percent chance she would make it and a one percent chance she would make it with any quality of life,” Spiotta said. “But, it wasn’t zero.”
When skill, preparation and appropriate challenges align, Spiotta said it’s a matter of energizing the team as a superior leader, setting the tone for success.
“I told (one team member), ‘If you give your best, I’ll give my best,” Spiotta recalled from that day. “I said to the next person (on the team), “If you give your best, I’ll give my best.”
At the presentation, attendees saw the result of the neurosurgeons’ team flow state: the woman who the doctors worked on that day was in attendance at the event at the Charleston Music Hall — now a mother, thriving, and fierce advocate for domestic violence awareness. Dr. Spiotta recognized her in the crowd to a resounding applause.
“I love you!” the former patient yelled out to the doctor on stage.
After the presentation, Dr. Spiotta said his Team Flow formula could apply to any industry as well as one’s personal life and family dynamics: match skill and preparation with meaningful tasks that challenge and inspire others.
It was Spiotta’s first time speaking about the psychology of Team Flow state. The author of more than 300 peer-reviewed publications and three textbooks is a regular speaker in scientific and technical methods in neurology. He said he decided on a whim to sign up to be a TedX speaker and he gave credit to two TedX speech coaches who helped him focus his message.
The theme of this year’s TedX Charleston event was ReEmerge. The day, hosted by emcee LB Adams, comprised of “lessons worth sharing.”
For more information on TedX Charleston visit www.tedxcharleston.org. Follow Spiotta on Instagram @alexspiotta.
Jenny Peterson is a contributing writer for SC Biz News.