Improv for Team Building
In the second part of Improv for Team Building Skills, we examine the close relationships that are required for an effective team, and how Improv Training can create unique interactions and form lasting relationships.
Interpersonal relationships lie at the heart of any team. Team building activities often focus on group activities. Here is the start of a typical list of team building activities:
- Battle of the airbands. Move over karaoke. …
- Potluck. Let your employees show off their cooking skills (or at least their skills at tracking down delicious food). …
- Water balloon toss. On a warm summer day, fill up a bunch of water balloons. …
- Scavenger hunt. …
- Human knot. …
- Show-and-tell. …
- Egg drop. …
- Two truths, one lie.
A quick scan of this list reveals that most of these activities will play into the hands of the confident extroverts and those with specific skills or pre-existing knowledge. Perhaps ‘Human knot’ stands out as the one that would really involve the group being able to self-organise and collaborate. Improv training focusses distinctly on group cohesion, listening, speaking up and flattening out hierarchies. While it may seem that the outgoing joke-tellers will take centre stage, a good improv facilitator will ensure that the group learns to respond to all ideas equally and takes collective responsibility for the outcomes. We like to say that we treat everyone like ‘Artists, poets and geniuses’. It can feel strange to apply this and break old habits and preconceptions about people, but we find that when you take the time to listen, really listen, you hear things you never heard before.
Core Improv Rules that relate to Interpersonal Relations and Team Building
Improv demands that we listen attentively and deeply. Not just to the words, but to the tone of voice, the body language and the music. It is not our fault that we can be so bad at listening, after all we have our own agendas and forming that next idea into a sentence can take resources away from our ability to listen and comprehend. If it’s not bad enough that we don’t listen all the way to the end of a sentence, often we jump right in over it. We know when we are in the presence of someone who does really listen. They often pause before speaking and they give eye contact more often than others. They are listening and reading us. These are the people who are present, and who can give their focus and attention to the person or situation they are in at the time. Improvisers are often these people.
Listening habits can be changed, but not without some intervention. Improv training focusses on listening and responding to what you have heard. A good improv facilitator will be able to identify when things are not working due to lack of listening. And listening is not finished when you have heard the words. They have to sink in, be interpreted and then responded to. All things we do naturally, but we develop habits that shut down our ability to really listen.
‘I’VE GOT YOUR BACK’
One of the aspects of improv that often gets overlooked is the reactions that you will get from your peers when you are doing an exercise, game or scene. We make sure to encourage people to give their support by laughter, clapping or by talking to people afterwards and simply telling them how much you enjoyed what they did, or how they surprised you. Give support to team members and they automatically return it. This sets up an environment where people feel able to take bigger risks and express their ideas more confidently.
Improv training also allows you to practise giving support in a game or scene. It’s not just ‘Yes and’, it’s helping your partner when they dry up, giving them space when they are on a roll and responding to their offers confidently.
Improv training is not alone in providing opportunities to see your colleagues in a new light. Many Team Building exercises allow you to discover qualities, skills and resources in your team members that you did not know about before. Improv provides these opportunities in a rich abundance. Watching someone you have known for years open up and surprise themselves with a character, a story or even a song provides a unique shared experience. We have heard countless anecdotes of colleagues interacting more freely for years after a single improv session. It is simply easier to communicate with someone who has shown and shared vulnerability, humility, over-confidence and failure with you and that is what improv training gives you the opportunity to experience.
Improv Games and Exercises that relate to Interpersonal Relations and Team Building Skills
Improv for team building skills is a growing field and every Improv Facilitator will have their own menu of game and exercises that they rely on. There are a few common themes though:
We often encourage participants to pair up with someone they do not know well in an improv training session. It is easy to fall into historical patterns of behaviour when we are with people we know well. There is nothing wrong with these, but it can be easier to let go and discover something new about yourself when you are not following a script. Pair work also focusses on the direct connection between two people which is the situation that forms the vast majority of our human interactions.
Risk taking or stepping out of your comfort zone is different for everyone. Some people thrive on being the centre of attention, some have a visceral fear of it. Risk taking is not therefore a ‘one size fits all’ exercise. Rather it pops ups sometimes when we least expect it. In a circle game, or scene. During the instructions for the next exercise we suddenly get a shot of adrenalin, ‘I don’t want to do THAT’. We pride ourselves on creating a safe space for people to explore gently outside their comfort zone. Once you have realised that nothing bad will happen, it is surprising how far you can go. Watching your colleagues break through their own barriers is incredibly empowering and will allow you to appreciate their struggle and victory as they appreciate yours.
Improvised scenes are often the end goal of an improvised workshop with us. They are the sandbox of improv, the place where we can see all the group dynamics that we have worked on in play. Listening and supporting each other will all play their part and, if expertly facilitated, will provide a rich environment for learning, bonding and team building.
To find out more about how improv training can help with team building skills, get in touch.