The same improvisation training that famous comedians practice can be an extremely effective tool in the corporate business setting. It fosters: agreement and consensus, camaraderie and teamwork, and creativity. It’s also fun!
When people hear the word ‘improv’ most think of stand-up comedy or the short form theater games that are played on Whose Line Is It Anyway—situationsthat makes you laugh, but best left to the professionals.
However, long-form improv is completely different, featuring complete scenes with real characters and true emotions. It’s quite funny, but can also be moving at times. A strong run of long-form improv is akin to watching several short one-act plays, all completely made up on the spot. The best part is that just about anyone can pick up the basics to perform long-form improvisation—you don’t have to be super-talented like Amy Poehler or Steve Carell to be able to create great scenes and to glean the benefits of the activity for the business environment. The lessons and skills learned through improv classes or workshops extend well beyond the stage and can impact professional lives by improving communication, fostering teamwork, and providing a new set of tools for creativity at work.
The foundation for any improv scene is built upon the idea of ‘Yes, and…’, which means whatever your scene partner brings to the stage, you say ‘YES’ to it—agreeing to the reality presented—‘AND’ then you add your own information to what was established, supporting and expanding upon it. For example, if Lisa starts her scene with the line “The sky is green…”, instead of saying no and shooting her down, her scene partner will agree with the reality she’s created by pointing to the sky and responding with “It sure is! And look at those purple clouds floating by…”
By agreeing with and supporting each other, the performers build a scene together piece-by-piece. Surprising, often hilarious, elements of the scene emerge spontaneously just by the act of listening and agreement. It’s the ultimate expression of creative teamwork! For it to be successful, the players must commit to being open—adaptable to each other’s scene contributions. If an individual tries to steamroll with their own set-in-stone agenda, it will fail.
by Daniel Brown, Rocketpack Creative Services
In business, it can be easy to reject a new idea; it’s easier and much safer to say ‘No’. But if the team says ‘Yes’ long enough to follow the idea—just to see where it naturally goes—then they are actively listening and open to new possibilities. When someone else on the team adds in the ‘And…’, your team is now actively working together to find creative, and often surprising, solutions without negating anyone’s ideas.
Not every idea is a winner. Any run of long-form improv scenes has its share of clunkers. But if a scene is flailing or going off the rails, their troupe mates can end or “wipe” the scene, rescuing their teammates from failure. Then, a brand new scene is started immediately and no one dwells on the one that didn’t work. A certain amount of failure is necessary to get to the successes. It’s built into the improv system! If your team, at work or on the improv stage, has your back in any situation, it provides a safety net that greatly reduces the anxiety of failure. Great ideas, and great scenes, happen because of this freedom to step out and try something new.
The concept of “Yes, and…” can completely transform the way business meetings work by reducing negativity and encouraging participation from everyone. When team members feel heard, they’ll be more encouraged and excited to actively participate in a positive atmosphere of agreement and support.
Consider using improv at your next corporate retreat or All-Hands meeting! Contact Daniel Brown for facilitation services at 240-438-2064 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found at his website: www.refleximprov.com.
Daniel Brown is a graphic designer, web designer, and videographer for SJ&A, and teaches improvisation classes for Washington Improv Theater in Washington, DC.