Improv for Team Building
There are many aspects of personal and professional life that can be enhanced using improv training. There is one area however that seems to be the perfect match, improv for team building skills. The skills that are required to make a believable, coherent and often funny improvised scene in the moment, are directly transferable to the skills required to drive a successful team, whether in sport, business, or the arts.
There is much research into the attributes and activities that define team building. Let’s look at how improv for team building skills deals with one of the core issues – problem solving.
Problem solving as a team requires a subtle dance of leading, following, listening, creativity, confidence and knowing when to step back and go with someone else’s idea. This dance will only work if the team is cohesive, listening and trusting of each other. If there are persistently louder voices, egos, hidden agendas or fearful voices then many of the most creative and innovative solutions will go unheard or dismissed out of hand.
Core Improv Rules that relate to Problem Solving. and Team Building
Saying yes sounds simple. It is just one word. It is the word that lies at the very heart of improv. If you are in a scene and someone proclaims that you are both in a cave – you say yes. If you say you are someone’s brother, they say yes. That way you can establish some facts quickly and move on. Now it may be that that scene does not go where you wanted or expected, but at least it went somewhere. Here is the crucial point. You may not have hit on the right solution, but unless you flesh it out, you never know what you might have missed.
You don’t need other people to say yes to either. We have to sometimes say ‘Yes’ to our own ideas also. If you have ever tried to write something – an article, book, piece of music, you will be familiar with the dithering that can occur at the start. Writing two words and then deleting them. How much more satisfying is it to splurge out a page, then sit back, have a cup of tea and return to it. This is saying yes to yourself and it can be very powerful. Sometimes when trying to crack a Sudoku you just have to take the plunge and follow it through before you realise whether you were right or not. This is saying yes to yourself.
When using improv for team building skills, you have to be open to other ideas, say yes to them and find out where they take you. Of course it may not work out in the end but at least there is something on the table rather than a battle of louder and louder voices and a whole bunch of half-formed ideas on the table.
Oh, and do be wary of saying ‘Yes’ and meaning ‘No’…
SAY YES AND
That is only half the story of course. Without the ‘And’, your yes is really a ‘No’ in disguise, commonly referred to in improv as ‘Yes but’. Now there are plenty of times where saying ‘No’ or ‘Yes but’ is exactly the right thing to do. You do not want a ‘Yes and’ brain surgeon for example for obvious reasons.
‘Yes and’ is a fantastic tool when problem solving. It shows that you are listening, that you respect the ideas of your team mates, and allows the team to create innovative solutions to problems. Improv training allows teams to work together and find solutions to problems when the stakes are low.
LEADING AND FOLLOWING
This is an incredibly subtle area of an effective team. There are always going to be people in the team who specialise in certain areas. Think of a pitch meeting. You will have the designer, technical, finance and managers often all present. At different times in the pitch, they will all be called on to take charge, give their opinion and lead that section. It is crucial that they are given the respect and space to deliver their expertise in that moment. Knowing when to lead without treading on other people, and when to follow without being too back-footed is an incredibly complex dynamic.
Improv for team building skills allows a team to explore the dance of leading and following in new and challenging situations. It is always delightful to see people surprised by the resourcefulness of their colleagues.
ACCEPTANCE OF FAILURE
There are few occasions in life where ‘failure’ is seen as acceptable. A well facilitated improv training session is one of those places. Not just saying that it is okay to fail, but actively celebrating failure when it inevitably happens. If people are terrified of failing, especially in front of their peers, then they will inevitably shut down their own ideas and become less confident. It is basic survival. The fear of being ousted from our social group is deep seated and for good reason. We don’t want to starve on our own in the wild. However, failure is an important part of working as a team. Not everything will work, and how we deal with failure on a personal level, and as a team can help to bond us together and become stronger. Improv allows us, encourages us to fail, to fail proudly, and to fail again. Then we find out that failure is part of a process rather than the end of one.
Improv Games and Exercises that relate to Problem Solving and Team Building
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:
When a game travels round a circle, such as telling a story one word at a time, then the whole group is responsible for the outcome of that game. This automatically creates an atmosphere of pulling together, supporting and rooting for each other, and wanting to perform as part of the team. Disfunctional teams (and we have seen them all) will find these games very difficult as the same voices will attempt to derail, be funny, be loud or subvert the game. This also provides a great opportunity to see how a team reacts to a troublesome individual and the right facilitation can really help a team bond together.
Group Creation Games
Many improv games rely on the group creating a world, an object or a scenario as a whole. Much like the circle game, if there are members of the group who are trying to push their own agendas too hard, or are too shy to contribute then this can derail the exercise. This really focusses on the leading and following skills.
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. Saying yes, saying yes and, leading, following and failing 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.