What’s So Funny About Improv in the Workplace?
Early in my career, I worked in corporate marketing and communications for a health care company. I was so green that I didn’t yet know the definition of the silo effect – the lack of communication and common goals between departments in an organization. Or maybe it wasn’t because I was green … maybe it was because I was personally going from department to department with curiosity seeking information about projects, goals and achievements to include in the employee newsletter. I wanted to know what was happening around every corner of the office. However, many of my co-workers were happy to stick to themselves doing what they did without having any idea how it positively or negatively impacted the big picture.
Fast forward 25 years … now I run an improv school and lead training and development sessions for organizations using that improv toolbox. So, when someone discovers my improv background, I usually get one of the following responses:
- “Tell me a joke – go ahead, say something funny!”
- “Oh, I could never do that!”
Improv isn’t about telling jokes or being funny; it’s something we’re already doing because life (and work) is unscripted.
According to Wikipedia, “Improvisational theater, often called improv, is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.”
So, let’s talk about work life. When applied to the office, can the tenants of this art form make the work experience richer for team members and break down silos along the way? Yes! Utilizing an improv toolkit at work could be the difference between team members thriving – or merely surviving in the workplace.
With that in mind, I present the top six ways improv can make your team members stars on the work “stage.”
- Team members embrace improv’s power of “yes.” Imagine team members having this “yes, and” attitude … “Yes, we can do this, and here’s the first step.” Those who practice “yes, and” thinking affect others around them positively and the “can do” attitude makes workplace life more about action rather than paralysis by analysis. Communication skills improve as active listening is used in conversations that move forward together.
- Employees explore creativity. Some team members get into a daily routine and don’t often stray from it because of the pressure to succeed. Through improv, they can tap into parts of themselves that may not be available in their day-to-day lives. What if they could have a safe space to let their guards down – together — and have fun doing it? It becomes a transformational experience that connects and bonds them with each other enabling them to make mistakes while brainstorming innovative solutions to the company’s latest set of challenges.
- Team members develop a culture conducive to collaboration. While there are many avenues to strengthen work bonds, there’s nothing like going through a shared group experience where team members explore the unknown together while supporting each other through it. Workplace friendships form fast through improv as participants see each other as people – not titles.
- They practice resilience and adaptability in the face of failure. If people weren’t willing to fail, we’d never have the telephone, the automobile or the computer. And even so, employees put pressure on themselves to be right and to do well – All. The. Time. What if there was a safe space where mistakes were embraced and failure could be practiced? Through improv, team members get to a place where they’re able to take risks, leaning into starting over or going in a new direction. Being able to zigzag with ease is necessary at work – and home – as life is rarely a straight line.
- By participating in experiential learning, team members develop self-awareness. Because they learn about behaviors in an environment different from the day-to-day workplace, team members can reflect on their own behaviors and apply that awareness to their everyday work life.
- Like self-awareness, organizations using improv training to learn about their collective strengths and weaknesses also develop an organizational awareness. Common factors assessed often include critical thinking competencies, alignment of organizational values with individual behaviors and collaborative agility so team members can work with diverse co-workers to achieve common goals. By slowing down and being in the moment, team members can become practitioners of a “we before me” mindset by making each other look good through a cooperative, collaborative play experience. By practicing their teamwork skills, they can become cheerleaders for each other encouraging group success outside of the improv space.
So, this list wasn’t funny at all. What could be is having an improv adventure where the funny organically unfolds while helping your team members develop soft, or as I like to call them, essential skills. As they grow as individuals, their engagement will too. And isn’t that worth a standing ovation on your organization’s “stage?”