In today's fast-paced business climate, organizations must be comfortable with change and ambiguity and be ready to embrace creativity and innovation to come up with new ideas and solutions. Improvisation is a fantastic teaching tool that can help companies compete. The spontaneous and creative facets of improv sharpen participants’ leadership, innovation, and communication skills and over time, eliminates fear, a core barrier to creativity, collaboration, and change.
At its core, improv teaches the concept that working together is the only way to move forward. Actors must be open to all ideas that come across the table and then build on their teammates’ ideas to provide the audience with a good story line. This “yes, and” concept is the cornerstone of all improvisation around the world. There are no wrong answers, just ideas that have yet to be explored.
In the business world, improv training helps coworkers come together, open up with one another, and establish team trust. In order to succeed, participants must accept each other’s ideas without judgement and collaborate with those who came before them. This process breaks down silos across disparate teams and opens up people to saying yes and jumping in to help one another. Improv also helps instill courage in participants. It gets people comfortable with creative collaboration and risk-taking. If a mistake is made, it only causes momentary discomfort and the stigma of failure is slowly reworked.
As change starts from the top down, leaders in particular can benefit from improv. In order to lead effectively, leaders must be willing to listen and be open to new ideas. This is where the “yes, and” principle comes into play. Rather than using dismissive words like “can’t” and “but” that stymie creativity, leaders learn to look for opportunities and possibilities, creating an environment that allows employees to flourish.
Improv is about being present, reacting to what’s been given to you, adapting to how the people around you are reacting, and communicating. Games are designed to get people to think on their feet and respond quickly. Below are a few improv games to play at your next corporate training.
Ninja Stars is a great game to energize participants. It involves a group of five or more players and one facilitator. Participants play the game by simply pretending to throw and catch imaginary ninja stars with the goal that “no one gets injured.” At the beginning of the game, the facilitator should show participants how to safely catch the ninja star by clapping two hands together in front of their face. Start throwing the star. If someone does get “hurt,”debrief at that moment without judgment. Have them identify what they can do to ensure the goal is met (e.g., better eye contact). Celebrate once the group is able to throw the ninja star for at least two minutes without anyone getting“hurt.” In order to succeed, everyone will need to be fully present and “all in.” Communication is key, as participants are forced to pay very close attention to eye contact, body language, and verbal signals.
Word ball is another popular warm-up exercise. A group of 5-10 participants stand in a circle, and the facilitator gives one person a make-believe ball. That person throws the ball to someone in the circle, simultaneously saying the first word that pops into his or her head.The person who catches the ball immediately throws it to someone else, this time stating a word somehow associated with that first word. The game continues, building word upon word until everyone has had a turn. In this game, there is no time for hesitation. Participants react without thinking, trust their instincts, and are unafraid to look foolish. Practicing the “yes, and”concept in this game helps co-workers play off each other’s ideas and become more comfortable trying new things.
There are dozens of variations of this game, but the basic premise is that one person, the Offerer, turns towards their partner, the Receiver, and offers them an imaginary box. The Receiver asks their partner, “What’s in the box?” The Offerer responds by telling them what they put in the box. It can be anything. For example, a plane. The Receiver responds, “Thank you for this plane” and then proceeds to tell the Offerer why it’s the perfect gift and how they will use the gift in their life. For instance, the Receiver can say: “Oh, that’s awesome, thank you! I needed a plane, as I’m jetting off to Hawaii this afternoon!” Regardless of what’s in the box, the Receiver has to find some way to respond to the gift in a positive fashion. This exercise encouraging creative thinking and helps participants to learn to look at all situations as “gifts” that can be turned into something positive.
As these games demonstrate, what is at the heart of practicing improv is listening to others, learning how to build on other people’s ideas, and focusing on what is good for the collective rather than what is good for oneself. These skills are also what is needed to be an effective leader – the ability to listen, communicate, support others, and find innovative solutions forward. The tools, tricks, and techniques learned at improv training will forever be valuable as leaders rely on them to navigate an ever-changing business landscape.
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