Flourishing Vs Floundering - Which are You?
3rd November 2010
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To flourish means to “live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generatively, growth and resilience”   to flounder means to act clumsily, to be ineffective. So what makes a team flourish and what can you do to enable your teams to flourish?

As you know by now, I am very interested in people’s behaviours at work, especially the factors that influence those behaviours – for example attitudes, beliefs values, these are our internal influences. Behaviours are of course affected by external surroundings too – the environment, other people, the prevailing moods and emotions have an interesting effect.

Recently I sat in on a very difficult team meeting – and my overall observation was that this team was floundering. I noticed that people did not listen to each-other, they talked over each-other, they defended their views and their actions, their focus was inward and the overall performance was poor. In addition, this was reinforced by constant reminders of what a difficult time this is and difficult it is going to be. The group’s leader continuously reminded the team of the need to increase sales and to “sell more units”, many time over.

There was palpable frustration in the room, there was plenty of debate and people were trying to find a scapegoat – what has caused all this and how could they make it better – only the discussions went around in circles. They were stuck in a rut. The end of the meeting seemed to come as a relief as people quietly exited the room … smiling apologetically at each-other.

As I drove home, I wondered about this team and what exactly was going on as there certainly were lots of positive things in place – people wanted to be there, they wanted to be successful, and the leader certainly wanted success for his team.  So, is it possible that this same team could flourish?

Yes. But, how?

There is some very interesting evidence that shows that positivity within a team will enable high performance – but what kind of positivity exactly? How is it achieved and what needs to happen?

Well, here we have challenge, there answers to these questions – but it requires you to think very differently about science in its traditional sense. First of all – most people look for causes and explanations: e.g. “high pay causes high performance” or “motivation causes achievement of goals” and if only that were true and if only it was that simple!  If you are a manager reading this, you know already that the relationships between work, motivation and success are non- linear, sometimes complex and hard to explain. For example, the direction of effect can be reversed, e.g. success affects motivation and in turn, motivation affects success etc. So read on because the research in the field of positivity has some up with some very intriguing findings about positivity and work teams.

The evidence:

Marcial Losada worked with 60 executive teams studying their behaviours and statements as they ran real meetings. His “laboratory” for the study was a simulated boardroom with walls made of one way mirrors. His research team coded every statement made by the executives and specifically looked at the following areas:

Whether people’s statements were:

• positive or negative
• Self-focused or other focused
• Based on inquiry ( asking questions) vs. advocacy( defending one’s point of view)

From this research he was able to show some key differences between high performing and poor performing teams - to measure these differences, he looked at profitability, customer satisfaction ratings, and evaluation s by other work colleagues, including direct reports. The biggest difference was the high performing teams - 25% of his study group has very high positivity ratios, 3:1. In addition, the positivity followed a pattern known as the “Butterfly effect” – there is where seemingly trivial inputs, (e.g. the flapping of a butterfly’s wing in one place) can disproportionally create outcomes elsewhere.  This is an example of a nonlinear effect.

Benefits of positivity on Teams:

Research shows that positivity creates more profits, but how? Positivity opens teams up to asking more questions and focusing outward and this means that they develop more psychological and social resources as a team. They are more open to new ideas. Their ability to work together, their connectivity goes up as people become more responsive and supportive to each other - this is the synergistic effect of team work when it works! The butterfly or Tipping point effect is how this comes about, so you need to create the conditions for this and know what you are looking for.

The skills/conditions:

• More outward focus rather than inward focus, greater focus on others
• More positive statements (e.g. support, appreciation, optimism) than negative statements (e.g. cynicism, disapproval)
• Balancing inquiry with advocacy
• Being open to new ideas
• Resilience – ability to maintain high state of creativity and performance, being able to bounce back from adversity and not getting stuck in critical, self-absorbed advocacy.
• Connectivity and attunement within the team:  For every one disconnected person in the team, you need at least 3 that are connected. In an 8 person team, you will need at least 6 that are connected

So we know that leaders can work with their team to achieve higher levels of creativity and connectivity. We know that this kind of team will produce higher profits. The opportunity here is to for you to learn how to raise your ratio as an individual and how to realise this as a team.   An important point to make here is that the positivity has to be heartfelt and genuine – empty pretence or “forcing” positivity simply does not work and may backfire.  Furthermore, there is work to suggest that too much positivity is not so good either! Losada’s work is quite mathematical and there are some references given below for those of you interested in the maths here.

So we have some good news, that heartfelt positivity at a ratio of 3:1 will certainly make team meetings more enjoyable and this positivity is the platform for optimal functioning i.e. flourishing.

Take a test here: http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php 

Talk to us about developing Resilience, Leading teams and increasing positivity – Email Miriam now miriam@mccallumassociates.co.uk 

Recommended book: “What women know” by Michelle Jackson and Dr Juliet Bressan.  This is a lovely and very positive book which is a collection of real life stories reflecting wisdom and knowledge from women all over the world.


Losada, Marcial and Fredrickson, B.( Oct 2005) "Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing" In American Psychologist.

Barbara Fredrickson “Positivity” Oneworld publications, Oxford, England 2009

Keyes, C.L.M. (2002)“The mental health continuum: From Languishing to flourishing in life” Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. 43, 207-222.

Losada, M and E. Heaphy  2004 “The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams” American Behavioural Scientist 47:740 -65

About the Author

Dawn R

Member since: 9th July 2012

Working in the world of marketing and communications, I have a real passion for helping people and businesses become the best that they can be. And whilst working hard is of course important – I believe...

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