Getting your teams at work to engage in theatrical improvisation is one of the best ways to break the ice when you’re introducing one group to another, or striving for more of a sense of teamsmenship within a group. Sometimes, the mere mention of the words “We’re gonna do Improv!” can strike fear in the hearts of many. It’s important to start the event with a game that is light, fun, and quickly defuses the angst.
NAME & GESTURE is a simple, fun and effective game that I learned at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York City. Here’s how it works:
Name & Gesture:
Everyone forms a large circle. The first (brave) person says their name and does an associated bodily gesture to accompany their name. For example, the 1st player (let’s say Scott) says “Scott”, and slaps his thigh. Then EVERYBODY in the circle repeats “SCOTT!” and slaps their own thigh. Then, the player to the right of Scott, (let’s say, Ellen) says “SCOTT!” and slaps her thigh, and then says “ELLEN!”, and spins around in a circle. 1-by-1, all the way around the circle, each plays says the previous names & gestures of all the previous players, ending with their own name & gesture. This goes all the way around the circle. Finally one brave soul must do the names & gestures of the ENTIRE circle.
In early December this month Improv Alive began offering a Business Improvisation boot camp for Puget Sound area businesses to send their employees to, in order to learn and practice some new and different communication & collaboration techniques. There were Business Consultants, Life Coaches, Marketing Directors, Tour Guides, and even a retired Fish & Wildlife Scientist! 14 people in all, and the range of personalities throughout the group couldn’t have been wider. It was a fun and successful morning of play and learning, and the reviews were positive, but one review caught me by surprise. I share it here:
“I wanted to just share an observation about my experience today in Boot Camp: What I noticed was that there were quite a few extroverts (makes sense for tour guides) who were really into the improvisational opportunities. In the moment, I recall feeling a little out of place, and I recall kind of taking a back seat, allowing others to just go for it while I hung back. After the workshop, I spoke to a number of the other attendees, and each of them complemented me on how outgoing and engaged I was during those same exercises. Thinking about this, I wonder which one happened. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?”
This feedback made me acutely aware of how differently one person may experience an improvisational engagement from another. An engaging teacher with a masterful lecture may take a fiendishly boring topic like.. Taxes, (sorry accountants), and create an intriguing lecture that inspires a diverse audience. The feedback would most likely be uniformly positive, the audience would have had similar praises and critiques, but they will all have experienced the same lecture.
In my experience as a teacher of improvisation for people who are not “improvisers”, this that the common experience phenomenon I mention above simply does not occur when one is engaging in Improvisation. The reason for his is that when one is engaged in the act of improvising, they are operating at an elevated state of consciousness, just as an athlete, or an artist is when they are in the midst of their performance. It’s called “the zone”. The person is said to be “in the zone”. When one is acting “in the zone”, there often occurs a kind of amnesic effect that literally changes, or more to the point, re-writes the participants’ recollection of the experience.
When leading corporate teams in improvisation workshops, I rely on the zone to help people overcome their inhibitions and escape self-judgment (because what difference does it make if they can’t even remember how bad or good they performed anyway?!)
This is a special post dedicated to you business leaders out there who feel that their meetings are turning out to be to much like ..meetings. Why not try our newest creation to spice things up? Introducing the Improv Alive Business Meeting Pre-funk Game Pack! Created here at Improv Alive, just for you. Enjoy and feel free to pay it forward.
Download via Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/JulianSchrenzel/improvalivebusinessmeetingprefunkgamepack
A: Well, this is a full workshop, but the guiding concepts that will help you ask your boss for a raise is 1. Listen to your him/herÖ REALLY listen, rather than succumbing to the desire to close your ears and push your own agenda.
Q: I don’t get along with a guy that I work with, but my boss has put me on a project with him, and expects us to work together on a deadline driven project. How am I supposed to do this when we don’t see things eye to eye?
A: Rather than allowing your emotions to control you and eventually trump and sabotage the greater good (the project being a success and you keeping your job!), see if you can raise the bar.. the other person may have a different way of doing things, and they may be just as smart as you! Your value to your boss may come from being able to be effective with challenging people. Listen, adapt, loosen your grip on how YOU think it should go.. IMPROVISE!!
Q: How can I show my employees that I am listening to them?
A: Communication is a huge issue. Many people feel they need to protect their reputation, or create their legacy, and this causes selfish behavior. Improv is helping by causing everybody to stop and listen to each other.
How can individuals or businesses get more information about your workshops?
If YOU have a questions, feel free to write me at email@example.com, or, just stop by and say hi at www.improv-alive.com. Heck, you can even give me a call at 206-437-9455! That’s how super-approachable I am.
Q: Most people will tell you there is lack of trust in many working environments. One of the main foundations of improv is trust. How do you “break the ice” and have colleagues gain trust in eachother in your workshops?
A: When a bunch of “non-improv” people engage in improvisation, it often starts with most people feeling anxious or nervous about doing something they think is VERY hard, and takes a special kind of ‘artistic mind’. Once they realize that what we’re really doing is just playing a bunch of games and having fun, the nerves calm down and give way to fun and silliness. This transition from fear to fun is when all the benefits start to happen. In a workshop, it is made crystal clear in the beginning that their goal is to MESS UP. When they’re given license to fail, and they know that everybody in the room has the same license, then the pressure is removed and people begin to let themselves play. That’s how the ice is broken. Here are a couple of great trust-building exercises you might try with your teams before your next meeting:
Team walks randomly around the room. Periodically and randomly, someone says “Hey, Let’s _____!” Everybody enthusiastically replies, “YES! Let’s _____!!” and all begin doing that thing until the next random person yells, “Hey, Let’s _____!” Everybody enthusiastically replies, “YES! Let’s _____!!” and all begin doing that thing, etc…
THE TAKE AWAY: This game is not only hilarious to play, but also introduces a culture of agreement and support in your meeting.
Each team has exactly five minutes to create an ad campaign for an
ordinary product that does something ABSOLUTELY EXTRAORDINARY.
Each group must come up with an entire marketing strategy AND finished
commercial. Specifically, they must come up with: a name for the product,
a package design, a slogan, a spokesperson from the team designated to
lead them in the pitch, and they must come up with, and perform a jingle
(which all members of the team must participate).
Naturally, the only way to do this in five minutes is through complete and
total agreement. No negative thinking is allowed. Every idea should be
accepted enthusiastically and remembered, each step is built off the
previous idea. After five minutes, each team stands in front of the whole
group “the audience”, and presents their pitch, (to thunderous applause
and support from the audience!)
THE TAKE AWAY: The Advertisers is high energy and thoroughly entertaining for all involved. It requires agreement, non self-judgement, and creation.
Q: How does Improvisation help corporations and their employees achieve a better working environment?
A: This is a recurring question that I have been grappling with an effective answer to for a long time.. Myself being an artist & business leader, I already get the power of improvisation to effect change in teams & organizations. I’ve seen it, been a part of it and I trust it. However, as a teacher of improvisation in the world of business and higher education, I am constantly in the position of conveying this value to business and academic leaders who are looking for something more.. concrete, specific. Less conceptual and general.
The world in to which I’m trying to bring improvisation is constantly looking for the solution to their specific problem(s), they want to define the ROI, they want to see an outline with benchmarks. I find it next to impossible to avoid trying to fit improv into a box in order to cause my prospective clients to realize the value of subjecting their employees, students or clients to improvisational workshops. Here is a Wednesday afternoon attempt.. a thought journey, if you will: I liken the practice of improvisation to the practice of lifting weights: You don’t pump iron just so you can lift weights better, you pump iron to tone your muscles which you will then use more efficiently in your daily life. In the same way, improvisation is not the result. It isn’t even the direct solution to the result. When people intentionally improvise, they use their brains in new and unfamiliar ways, and when these activities are introduced in the context of ’play‘, ‘fun‘ or ‘exploration‘, people tend to lower their defenses and engage. Practicing improvisation is all about listening, accepting & supporting other’s ideas, and building, building, building.
Is there anyone out there who would prefer less listening? Less supporting? Less building in their organization?
Finally, Pumping iron is SEXY, and so it’s commonly practiced. The practice of improvisation, however, is generally considered to be only for Artists or Comics. The more we can change this stigma, the more improvisation will be adopted in business, education, and the world.
Q: Aren’t un-scripted performances haphazard and chaotic?
A: When improv is done right, it can absolutely be chaotic, but not haphazard. A lot of people think that improv is just getting up and doing anything and everything that pops into their mind. Improvisation on the stage is totally free in that is has no script & no blocking (planed movement), however, within that freedom, there are general guidelines that improvisers follow that create a ‘framework’ in which we play. These guidelines keep us from “haphazard” performances. This framework consists of tools that force us to constantly and intensely listen to each other, and cause every action to be in support of the others on the team, rather than making one’s SELF look good. This is the key to making improv look good!
QUESTION: How do you define ‘improvisation’ and how can we use it in our daily lives?
ANSWER: Improvisation is what we all do every day; it’s simply interacting and functioning in the world without a pre-determined plan of action. When was the last time you “scripted” your day? ..Me neither. We’re all improvisers all the time. Most of what makes improvisation seem difficult is that we believe that it’s difficult. Once we see through that myth, we can start to experience the powerful tool that improv is in our day to day interactions, both professional and personal.
Can the tools used, and principals gained from practicing theatrical improvisation help ordinary people to rediscover their extraordinary ability to communicate, to make decisions, and to lead? This is the question that came to me in my first days of Improv training at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, one of New York City’s well-known improvisation schools for actors.
In order for a group of actors to perform on stage successfully, each actor must adopt a few simple but powerful principles: Listen with your whole body. Be in a state of agreement and build on what your scene partner is creating. Silence your self-judging inner critic. Own, celebrate, and share failure.
Having come to improvisation from a career in IT, Technical training and Recruiting, it seemed to me that many of the skills one needs to create a good stage improvisation are very much the same skills one needs to be successful in business. The principles seemed so basic, so universal, so easy, yet so powerful! I wondered why they had remained vastly un-adopted in the business world today.
When I moved back to Seattle in 2007, I began exploring how I might pass along the skills I had learned in my improvisation training to “regular people” in a non-scary, but engaging way. My first improv class, which I taught through the Seattle Free School, consisted partially of actors and partly of non-actors, including professionals from Microsoft, AT&T and REI. It became clear to me as class progressed, that the students who seemed to be getting the most out of the sessions were the non-actors. I went on to teach subsequent improv classes, and the more I taught, the clearer it became to me that the ones who were consistently finding abilities within themselves that they never knew they had, were the ones who had never explored improvisation. Repeatedly, I was told by these students how they wished they could bottle this stuff up and take it to work.
So why is it that the skills gained from improvisation remain relatively unknown in the business world? In my experience, the answer can be summed up in three words: FEAR OF FAILURE. At some point between toddler-hood and adolescence, many people become conditioned to hide their mistakes and apologize when they don’t perform the way they think they’re expected to. They often forget the gift they were endowed with at birth. Yes, creativity comes as standard equipment in humans. So, the trick to fostering creativity in an individual or organization is to create, through improvisational play, an environment in which each person allows themself to rediscover their creativity by breaking down their self-imposed limits, and in doing so, unleashing their innate creativity.
I believe that creativity comes as standard equipment in humans. The trick to fostering creativity in an organization is to find a way to allow each person to discover that creativity within themselves. This is a scary thing for almost everybody to do! We all seem to have this deep fear of failure. “Screwing up” is almost always not an option, and the more responsibility one has, the higher one’s position in an organization, the more pressure is on that person to “perform well”. So, along the way, we become conditioned to hide our mistakes and apologize when we don’t perform the way we think we’re expected to. This is where many of us forget the gift we were given at birth. Luckily, this is also where the magical fundamentals of improvisation step in to restore that understanding.
If you want to make your muscles stronger what do you have to do? Exercise them. If you want to be able to play the Moonlight Sonata on the piano, what must you do? Practice, make mistakes, practice, make mistakes, and practice some more. If you want to be more creative, be a better communicator in your place of work! It’s no secret – you must exercise and practice!
~ Julian Schrenzel, Improv-Alive.com