I have been performing as an improv actor for 4 years. Regular performances, participating in workshops, and running courses is how I spend my afternoons and evenings almost every day. In short, an improvised play is a comedy show created in real time, with no previous preparation, no script, right before the eyes of the spectators. If you want to learn more about my group, visit our website. The so-called “improv” that continuously has been surprising and fascinating me since 2016, has two sides of the coin – it can be a funny show that helps you relax and laugh your head off, or it can be used at work, in daily life, in contacts with other people, or in building a team. How? I hope to answer this question by presenting some concepts and rules of improvisation.
Well, what are the concepts? What rules is the game played by? Is improvisation not about hitting the stage and saying or doing whatever comes to your mind? Well, kind of! But there are also guidelines or directions thanks to which the performance is a success, your role is convincing, and the plot makes sense. :) By implementing them in your professional life, you can improve the communication process, gain natural self-confidence, build a unified team, and more.
“Yes, and...” – teamwork and expanding ideas of others
In every team, not only in creative ones, collaboration is the key. The fundamental rule that pushes things forward is the “Yes, and...” approach.
“Yes” means that I agree with you;
“and...” means that I also put in my two pennies’ worth.
If we stick to that, we avoid blocking or negating, and the will to force through your own idea gets replaced by coming up with excellent solutions together. Let’s imagine this conversation:
- Look, these iguanas are wonderful! How about we adopt one?
- These are not iguanas. And I hate animals.
As you can probably see, we have witnessed a negation, the result of which is that the scene cannot develop further. However, we can change this quite easily in such a way to prolong the conversation and make your conversation partner feel that the idea has been recognised:
- Look, these iguanas are wonderful! How about we adopt one?
- Totally! Let’s get the one on the right and call her Christine!
The “Yes, and...” rule seems obvious, trivial even, but we keep forgetting it. It’s good to remind yourself about it, for instance during a brainstorm with your team. With that, any idea, even the weirdest one, can be built upon by the group, and finally can turn out to be the best solution!
Teamwork – start with getting to know your team
It has long been known that a unified team is the foundation of effective work. How to make people know each other and learn more about one another? There’s a guideline used during “improv” performances that might work here – find a common language. Scenes featuring two people are very interesting and easily expandable when both parties are interested and engaged in the conversation, and listen to one another. There’s nothing better than that joint energy, enjoying a topic together, developing the scene to push it into the right direction. Get the group to agree that this week you’ll try to get to know each other better. Even if you’ve been working together for a considerable time, it will be a great opportunity to learn something interesting about your teammates.
- Meet over a cup of coffee, have a breakfast together, or simply have a talk in the hallway.
- Make sure your conversation is true and natural.
- Look for things that you both enjoy.
- Talk about your interests, recent activities, to find that common denominator.
It may turn out that you both love watching Bond movies or growing plants – and there it is! You’ve hit the bull’s-eye. You’ll see that a conversation about a common interest will develop in a completely natural way. Benefits from this experiment are clearly visible. Learn more about the type of people you are, how you like to work, what your characteristic features are, what you do after work – change your perspective.
Listening and teamwork – a space for expressing oneself
A scene improvised by two people may seem difficult, with three actors it gets even harder, but what about eight? Eight people, eight goals, eight ideas for developing the plot. And as in any team, there’s no teamwork without... listening! Yes, I am important, but I also feel that I’m a part of a group and I leave space for others, I don’t take it all for myself. Teamwork, or jointly talking a topic over, can be seen as such a scene with multiple actors. If the topic’s hot, there are tons of ideas and even more doubts, do a simple exercise before you proceed to looking for solutions.
- Close your eyes and count to ten together. But not one after the other.
- Say the next number when you feel the time is right.
- Don’t rush.
- If a number, e.g. two, is said simultaneously by you and your friend, you have to start over.
It’s not that easy, but it will help you to calm yourselves down, get the feeling of the group, listen to each other, and collaborate. After completing this exercise, you’ll be more focused and ready for the actual conversation.
“Mistakes are OK!”, or how to learn from mistakes
When staging an improvised play, you should expect mistakes. After all, you don’t know what the play is about or what topic the audience will suggest. You are not prepared, you have no script or props. It’s all in your head. Similarly, you should expect mistakes while working in a team. As they say, nobody’s perfect, and he who makes no mistakes never makes anything. Therefore, minor mistakes, misunderstandings or slip-ups should not be treated as failures. They are opportunities! Real teamwork gives you space to think about them and helps you deal with them. When I find myself in a stressful situation at work, or something doesn’t go as planned, I try to gain something from the situation. Maybe I could use it as an inspiration for further actions? Training your flexibility this way takes time, but you’ll be ready for the unexpected, and you’ll have greater self-confidence as well as confidence in your team.
Attitude is the key to success
Remember that whatever you do, staying positive guarantees that the results will be far better! If you’re looking for a recipe, you can read all about the theory in post: Recharging your batteries, or a different look at work-life balance When I go on stage, when I start a workshop, when I sit at my desk and log in to start working — regardless of what I do, positive thoughts and good energy can work wonders for me and people around me. Same thing applies to you! Improvisation teaches us how to derive exciting ideas from mundane things. How to communicate with others, and how to boost our confidence by reaching further and further beyond our perceived limitations. It also teaches us that combining respect, trust, support, and assuming good intentions is the recipe for a good, creative team. It’s an easy method to achieve great teamwork and cooperation.