Teamwork, Collaboration and the Rules of Improv Comedy

One of the great challenges in leading teams is creating an atmosphere where people work together efficiently, collaborate effectively and, and respect one another. On countless occasions meetings can devolve into spitting matches or personal clashes which lead to bad decisions, poor relationships, and weaker teams.

Improv comedy provides some great rules and a strong framework for developing a positive atmosphere for teamwork, collaboration, and productivity. As a matter of fact entertainers provide rich examples of improvisation and creativity: jazz musicians, dancers, and artists all use improv as a means to great creative ends, and managers can learn important lessons by emulating this creative process. Opportunities that can be created when a good idea is turned into a great idea through improv techniques.

Here are 5 foundational rules of improv theater and ways team leaders (and team members) can use these lessons in their own day-to-day operations:

1. Say, “Yes” In improv this is what it’s all about. “Yes” means that you respect your partner, respect their idea, and shows your willingness to go along with a new idea. Great collaboration in a business context also requires that you follow the other person’s lead, avoid competing with them and commit to the reality that you are creating together.

2. Contribute something. The second (implied) rule of improv is not just to say “Yes” but to say, “Yes, and.” It is critical in a meeting that everyone bring something to the table, to not just be the person that sits there with nothing to add to the conversation. Great ideas can be made better and everyone on the team can add value by sharing their own ideas. Take what your partner has offered and add something to it

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3. Make your partner look good. It is said that in improv comedy “everyone is a supporting actor.” Trying to make the other guy look good is as important to business and professional relationships as it is to comedy. People sometimes run out of good ideas, need to be supported, and can be trusted to return that support. Having one another’s backs builds stronger teams, generates better ideas, and leads to greater satisfaction. Not to mention funnier scenes.

4. Pay attention: listen and observe. Being a great listener and paying close attention to detail two of the great strengths found in successful improv actors. Team members who pay close attention to others on their team, listen carefully to the ideas being shared, and are sensitive to the context of a situation are more likely to see positive outcomes. Watch people’s body language, listen carefully to what they are saying, and pay close attention to the details.

5. No mistakes, only opportunity In improv great scenes are built when mistakes are turned into comedic opportunity. Your partner may not have intended to walk through that imaginary wall you just described, but your reaction to her doing so can often lead to a better, stronger scene and laughter from your audience. In teamwork happy accidents can also happen when mistakes are made and the reaction to the mistake creates opportunity that might now have otherwise existed. Accept mistakes and always be watchful of how chance openings can identified and leveraged.

Photo: SNL Original CastWikipedia

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