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Improv for Team Development

Improv for Team Development

Improv, in its inherent nature, is collaboration.  An improv scene is not created based on the power of "I" but the co-creation synergy that happens through the power of "we."   In good improv, there is no competition only collaboration.  We focus on making our scene partners look amazing, letting go of our ideas if needed in service for the greater goal, and practicing deep listening skills so that we can stay in the present moment and respond to what is actually happening on stage - not what we "think" should happen on stage.  These core principals of improv are the building blocks of creating successful improv scenes.  They are also core principals of working together with a team to build projects, organizations, and programs.


Sports are improv - this is why people love to play them and watch them.  People love to be required to be in the present moment, not knowing what will happen next or what the outcome will be, and they love to watch how each individual will respond to the unexpected challenges in front of them and how the team will work together to get that win! 



The skills needed to be successful as a team are the same skills needed to be a successful improviser: Be Present, Listen, Embrace Failure, Surrender Attachment to the Goal, Flexibility, Spontaneity, Yes, And..., and Make Your Partner Look Good.



As much as I love playing and facilitating improv games, the juicy part of the workshop is the discussion that comes AFTER each game because how we do one thing is how we do everything.  This means that our behaviors that come out in an improv game will most likely also be seen in other areas in our life, i.e. in a product development meeting, a board or staff meeting, co-creating a project or product, running your own business and working the serve clients.


For example, if in an improv scene you find yourself continuously shutting someone down and saying “no” to their ideas rather than being open, listening, and working to make their idea look good, it is a safe bet, that you are also doing this in other areas of your life! 


The fun part of improv is that because it is fun, when these behaviors come out, they don’t feel so threatening.  Instead, they provide opportunity for increased self-awareness so we can 1) notice our ingrained patterns of response and 2) as a result of noticing the patterned responses, we can learn to make a different choice that is more supportive for us and our team. 



Possible Workshops Topics and Outline

*Note: I can customize any workshop to meet your needs, so if there is topic below that you would like to spend more time and/or replace with another skill, let me know and we can work to make that happen!


The skills that successful improvisers use to create successful scenes, are also required skills to make all teams look good - whether those be teams on a field, business, or in eduction.  The three main applied improv skills that I focus on in my improv workshops are:


  • Over-Acceptance,

  • Yes, And…,

  • Make Your Partner Look Good. 



Skill #1: Over-Acceptance


In order to build trust on a team, all team members need to know that their ideas will be accepted by their teammates.  What I love about improv is that it gives people a chance to practice acceptance of others and their ideas by practicing the skill of over-acceptance outside of the pressures of normal life - which then allows people to better identify what it means to accept and to be accepted.  Learning to accept others and what is being given to us BY others is essential to building trust, improving communication, and creating a safe environment where risks are encouraged and this is how success is created. 


The specific skills needed for acceptance are: Be Fully Present, Listen, Flexibility, Openness, Avoid Negation or Blocking, and Surrender Attatchment to a Specific Goal.


Applied Improv Exercises/Games:


  • Pass Yes - Eye Contact

  • You’re Awesome

  • Red Ball - Yellow Ball Passing Game

  • Story Orchestra

  • Alphabet Game


Skill #2: Yes, And…   

“Yes, And..” is the ultimate collaboration and communication tool.  Whether we know it or not, many of us tend to say “No” more than we say “Yes”.  No = No forward movement.  Yes = We are going somewhere.  Once we say “Yes” and “Accept” what our partner has said or done, the next part of the skill is to “Add” or say “And…”  to what they have given us.  “Yes, And…” is how we advance not only an improv scene forward, but it is also the way we collaboratively advance the ball down the field or defensively make a stop.  It is the basic building block for co-creation.


Applied Improv Exercises/Games:

  • Warm-Up Game: Pass the Clap

  • 60 Second Story

  • Hats

  • Psycho Job Interview

  • Sit-Stand-Bend


Skill #3: Make Your Partner Look Good

As we all know, being a part of a successful team is all about sharing the love.  You can’t have a successful team if everyone is playing for themselves.  One way to turn around the “All About Me” mentality is to mindset-shift to the “My Goal is to Make You Look Good” mentality.  Just like successful improvisers know that the success of a scene depends on them supporting their scene partner, the greats in sports know this too. 


When I was a little kid I was somewhat better than some of my teammates.  My coach said it’s a much greater reward for you to get your teammates who can’t dribble or score for themselves an open look. We won the championship and we kept winning and winning and I knew that was the right way to play.

                                                                                                    - Lebron James


In improv, when we focus on making the other player look good, not only does it keep us out of our own heads which allows us to act more spontaneously, it also helps to advance the scene because all people involved in the scene KNOW that the other people are there to support them and will not let them fall.  This level of understood safety and trust is what allows each member individually to take risks and contribute but also creates a team mentality of support which is where success begins.


Applied Improv Exercises/Games:

  • Partner Dance-Off

  • Sit-Stand-Bend

  • Freeze

  • Every improv game, really. :)


Bonus Skill: Leadership

Again, it comes down to “the way we do one thing is the way we do everything”!  Some of us automatically step into a leadership role wherever we go and some of us, tend to follow. Whether you tend to lead or follow, isn’t what is important, both are needed to make the machine go.  However, it is important to know if your tendency is to jump right in or hold back until someone else makes the first move.  Once you gain this valuable piece of self-knowledge, you are better able to either a) take a risk and insert yourself when needed or b) hold back and give someone else the opportunity to take the action.  Strong leaders know when it is time to take charge and when it is time to let go of the reigns so that others can rise.


Applied Improv Exercises/Games:

  • Flocking

  • Maniquins or Arms

  • Ask the Expert

  • Gesture Circle


A Quick Note About Improv!


There are two types of Improv: Improv Comedy and Applied Improv.  Improv Comedy is what you see when you head out to the theatre or watch the show Whose Line is it Anyway.  Improv comedians study the craft and their goal is to entertain.  Applied Improv teaches the SKILLS that successful improvisers use on-stage to co-create successful scenes.  The goal of Applied Improv is to help us learn to apply these skills in our daily lives, teams, and work environments to create greater communication, flow, and, confidence.


The great thing about improv is that you don’t have to have done it before; you also don’t have to be an actor or performer; and you especially don’t have to be funny.  In fact, it is a myth that you have to be funny to do improv - a myth I like to squash right away.  The only things you really need to do Applied Improv are:

1) An ability to play,

2) Willingness to take a risk, and

3) Openess to try something new. 

If you can manage to have even two of these three things, you are ready to go!


I look forward to chatting more with you about how we can develop a valuable and fun workshop for your team!

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