Corporate improv and why we shouldn’t call it that.
There is a business park* around the corner from my house and whenever I walk through it I have a good old chuckle to myself about the names of some of the companies:
Quadrant Systems – Are the systems in quadrants or for quadrants?
Mail International – Are they responsible for all types of mail in the whole world? Even email?
Synapsys Solutions – People who fix your brain?
International Logistics group – ALL Logistics? In the whole world?!
Application Solutions – Where you get a solution for your application right?
I swear this is true**. I laugh when I see them because they sound so serious, that to me it seems silly. They almost sound like joke names. Infact I even found a website that helps you come up with funny business names and some of those sound more realistic. I was even then trying to think of the most faceless corporate sounding business name that I could. I came up with ‘GlobalCorp’ but upon a quick google I found there are already loads of Globalcorps+ out there (Sorry Globalcorps – I’m sure you’re all very nice)
So why am I telling you all this? On an improv blog? Well dear reader, I do corporate improv. Quite a bit of it actually. I would say I spend about a third of the time doing improvised shows with the likes of The Maydays and The Showstoppers. About a third of the time teaching improv classes (to members of the public, or existing improv artists and companies) and then a third of the time doing ‘corporate’ improv.
The trouble is, when I say ‘corporate improv’ it sounds like just about the most dry, unfun thing ever. Corporate entertainment sounds far from entertaining. But you know what? It really isn’t. Corporate improv is just as much fun as ‘real’ improv.
Some of the corporates I have done in the last year have included:
- Getting NHS Doctors to be better at listening and knowing how to be present with their patients when they need to go ‘off script’
- Helping participants at online education conferences to get talking and playing together and then doing a show for them so they could laugh together.
- Running workshops at an organisational development body in leadership and group dynamics.
There have been lots more ranging from Charities to Investment banks, from team building to presentation skills to innovation. Some are with corporates and others are not. However they often all get called corporate (or sometimes business) improv training.
So back to my point about it sounding dry. Not just that, but reducing it to being corporate also makes the work massively depersonalised. So much of improvisation is about being more human. Meeting the other people in your group exactly where they are. Listening, being present, Co-operating. In a recent session, I was reminded of the excellent saying ‘play the person, not the game,’ it was a real shortcut for all the participants to these ideas. There is no maths to improv. There is no right or wrong. It really is about the people there doing it.
So I’d like to stop saying corporate improv. Why? Because it makes it sound like it’s for someone else over there. Improv can help every team, no matter how big or small. In my public classes, I’ve often had people say after several sessions that the communication skills inherent in improv have helped them at work, with friends, even with their children.
In any improv session, I’ll talk to the clients ahead of time and try to better understand their needs. Whether it be improving their longform transitions++ or being less afraid to share their ideas in meetings. Then I’ll work towards that outcome. The best thing is, there are often additional outcomes and hidden learnings that happen as well. Plus a lot of laughter, we mustn’t forget that.
If you are a human who is ever around people, be it your small business or volunteer organisation then maybe business improv is for you. If you are from a large corporation and improvisation sounds a bit out there then maybe we can work with you to make some real difference in your teams. Either way, please get in touch – Improv is for everyone!
*This makes me imagine a roller coaster where you sit behind a desk or dodgems on office wheelie chairs.
+Try saying Globalcorps 10 times, it sounds ridiculous.
++A bit of improv jargon relating to how moments link together in a longer piece of improvisation.