“You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson
As an entrepreneur, business owner, or a leader in your organization, you may already know how important it is to be adaptable, build trust, and align your team around a common purpose that drives your bottom line performance goals.
But, how do you, as a leader, weave these qualities into the fabric of your team? How can you proactively create an organizational culture that allows for mistakes, encourages perseverance, and engages all of your stakeholders around a common goal?
In today’s rapidly changing and ever evolving business marketplace, there are few qualities that drive a team’s success like resilience. And in my experience, the best way you can help your team build resilience in the workplace is to explore the skills and experiences related to improv comedy.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a major service/product organization on training for a point-of-sale system.
As part of the supporting effort for the training, we developed a series of improv exercises to engage the participants, raise their level of commitment, and actually help some of the key points in the training be more “sticky”. This initial training became a core component of a multi-year engagement, and I saw first hand that these core improv skills became key building blocks for the system trainers and users.
Why? There were three core components of improv that helped this organization’s training program succeed:
- Focus: In improvisational comedy, participants must come together as a unified team to make an improv scene work, no matter their skill level or seniority. When even the most tangential (wacky) ideas, distractions or curveballs are introduced, it is up to the team to collectively bring focus to the scene through adapting to the change in stride.
- Commitment: Commitment on stage is no different than commitment in the workplace. Those participants who are committed (not just “doing” but COMMITTED) to a scene are as successful and contributory as those who are committed in the workplace.
- Energy: The longest engagements, solutions, services, or efforts will most certainly languish if your workforce doesn’t bring energy to the process. So, too, will an improv exercise languish if the participants don’t bring over-the-top levels of energy to their words and actions. Energy becomes the engine for an organization to be resilient and sustain their efforts.
There is a key concept in improv called the “yes, and…” rule. Instead of thinking about problems as obstacles, and stifling team members with a “yes, but…” response, the “yes, and…” rule allows your team to brainstorm as a collective, build off of each other’s ideas in a positive way, and foster an environment of creativity and innovation.
So, how does it work? In another article I wrote for the BossaBlog, I gave the following example; an exercise called “Animal Ad Agency.” It works like this:
Break into small groups. Five to seven is ideal. Each small group forms a circle. Ask each group to name two things:
- An animal. (Take the quickest or best answer.)
- A common household product. (Take the quickest or best answer.)
Then explain that your organization has been hired to be the advertising firm to sell the common household product to a group of those animals.
Describe the process to the group.
Someone starts by identifying a feature of the product that would be compelling for the animal; the next person says “yes, and…” then gives their feature; and so on around the circle. It might sound like this for selling Eyeglasses to Elephants:
- Person 1: The glasses would be enormous, to fit their large head.
- Person 2: Yes, and…they would have a special nose-saddle to adapt to the movement of their trunks.
- Person 3: Yes, and…they would have a heads-up display that pinpoints distance to their next meal.
- Person 4: Yes, and…they would have special bifocals strictly for seeing their tiny mouse friends.
- And so on…
When you debrief, discuss the importance of “yes, and…” in terms of the creative process. As a team of professionals, what types of new possibilities are created by thinking in terms of “yes, and…” instead of the more often heard “no, because…” or even “Yes, but…”
The benefits of an exercise of this type will remain evident into the future as well. Meetings and discussions will include more “yes, and” thinking—and the results will be immediate and valuable.
Building Resilience Through Improv
We as leaders inspire trust as we let everyone know that ALL voices are heard and are important, that the best ideas come from building together as a team, and by letting our personnel know that we trust and empower them to come up with the solutions.
These three core concepts—adaptability, trust, and a common purpose—are the building blocks needed for successful, sustainable teams. Show them that it’s ok to trust their gut, try new things, and learn from their mistakes. They will learn to be resilient, they’ll be more prepared when problems arise, and they’ll be better aligned to collectively handle anything that may come their way.