Improvisation Training for Business: Exploring ‘Yes, and…’

improvisation training for business

The Yes, and… exercise used in improvisation training for business executives can occasionally raise consternation if taken too literally. We take a look at the difference between ‘Yes, and…’ in improvisation training, and ‘Yes, and…’ in business, to see what is transferable, and what is not.

by Richard Bradford


The mechanism of saying “Yes, and…” to someone has a very specific role when transported from the world of improvisation to a business environment, and it’s important to dwell a while on the difference between a fiendishly clever exercise, and the realities of business life.

In an improvised performance, saying “Yes, and” is a prerequisite for a scene to unfold effectively. By building on the preceding ideas of those on stage, a dialogue can take shape and an experience is created. It concludes with everyone playing a role in a new and often quite bizarre alternative reality which makes for funny scenes and great audience reactions. Much of the delight in improvised comedy emanates from seeing a group of people all accepting the offers of their peers and audience members, and being prepared to go wherever those suggestions might take them.

In improvisation, it really doesn’t matter where things end up. The more you fail or the more contrived and complex the situation becomes, the funnier the scene and the more successful the outcome.

Meanwhile in the business world, and in improvisation training for business, there are some obvious concerns which this sort of approach raises. It is unfeasible on many levels to have a group of key decision makers accepting the first suggestion that comes their way, and the very idea of throwing all caution to the wind and jumping aboard is not only counterintuitive, but also a very high risk strategy which would never stand up to scrutiny. Business processes are locked down and streamlined as successive generations of executives have learned the hard way, and set about ensuring mistakes never happen again.

Why then, is a ‘Yes, and…’ exercise still highly relevant to business training?

Improvisation Training for Business Engagement

It’s important to look beyond the literal.

What happens when we introduce this exercise to executives is exciting. It’s multi-layered and it resonates deeply with them.

In improvisation training for business, when someone replies to you with a “Yes, and…”, and builds on what you’re saying, you get a lift. You feel positive. They’ve listened to you. And they have valued your suggestion to the point that they want to add to it. You were braced for them to negate your comments and use the time you were speaking to formulate their own response, but for once, it didn’t happen. The warm spark of being heard, really heard, is sensed by sensitive of souls and thick-skinned individuals alike. And it feels good. You relax. Just a little. Then it happens again, and again. Suddenly, you are in the conversation of your dreams – everyone is hearing your opinion, everyone is supporting your contribution. Endorphins are released.

We all know in theory that during ideas generation exercises, judgement should temporarily be withheld. Equally, we know that just because you use ‘Yes, and…’ to build a dozen ideas, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go along with all or any of them, it just means that each idea has had chance to be opened up and looked at. And, regardless of what the final decision is, you will have built engagement around the problem and, most importantly, the solution.

Improvisation Training for Business Functions: Case Study

Another benefit of the ‘Yes, and…’ exercise is found when it is being used in improvisation training for business units which contain different functions. During one such cross-functional improvisation training event for a global pharmaceuticals company, we heard how a member of the legal department felt people totally stereotyped her as the “the one who says no to things”, especially to the product development and marketing people who were desperate to get new medicines out of the door after years in costly R&D. She was often the last hurdle before a new product was allowed to go on sale.

Now of course logically, you would never have a whole department whose job was just to block or send plans back to the drawing board for no good reason. She wanted new products to succeed just as much as anyone else, and/but in order for that to happen, they needed to make sure the product could be launched with minimal risk, so as to ensure an even greater success.

However, the intercultural relationships between departments had become ossified over time. Exchanges had become restricted, formulaic and repetitious, and it felt to her that “Everyone always knew what legal would say”.

After the improvisation training session with The Maydays, a senior product manager was caught saying, “We said yes to each other more in ten minutes than we probably have done in the last ten years”.

Saying “Yes, and…” won’t undo all the systems, processes and working practices. Nor is it intended to. There won’t be a big ‘green light to whatever’ sign up in the legal department any time soon. What she sensed might happen, though, was that others might remember the improvisation training and remember the time they saw the human behind the role. And they might be reminded that in fact, they’re all playing for the same team after all.

Improvisation Training for your business

When The Maydays deliver improvisation training for business contexts, we adapt our delivery three ways:

  • According to the business context and objectives we’ve been given by the learning and development team
  • According to the emerging needs of the people we find in the room with us
  • According to the mood in the room on the day.

The main reasons we use ‘Yes, and…’ activities are:

  • To ensure delegates listen actively to what is being said, and evaluate the speaker’s content in more depth
  • To build trust and collaboration
  • To ease and remove psychological and cultural bottlenecks
  • To help business leaders to introduce or embody a new vision or culture
  • To build consensus and unity around business objectives and the need to work as a team

If you are interested in how The Maydays could develop an improvisation based training event for your organisation, please contact us to find out more!




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