Organizations are constantly seeking new and exciting ways to help their teams connect. We know that a productive team has trust, communication, and a willingness to think creatively. What if there was a way to strengthen and build all three of those things while having fun?
The theatrical and the corporate worlds may seem oceans apart but in this instance, executives and mid-level managers can learn quite a bit about team building from actors.
Ensemble performances are awarded in the theatre as well as film. These ensemble casts work diligently towards creating a strong and supportive atmosphere for each other. Teams within the corporate world are often created quickly and asked to produce results with very little time to build camaraderie. So how can we learn from the theatre world and strengthen our teams for better performance?
Improvisation is a great way to take the theatre model and apply it to the corporate mindset. Improv requires zero preparation, it can be done anywhere, and the lessons learned instantly bring trust, communication, and creativity to a team. The principles of improv require that participants come with an open mind and are ready for anything. During any improv exercise participants must engage in active listening i.e. listening to understand rather than listening to respond. And, improv asks everyone to trust those around them and to respond positively - this is the “yes, and” principle articulated in a recent book of the same name from Second City executives Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton.
As a former actress, it has been extremely rewarding to be able to reach back to the foundational aspects of my theatre training in an effort to help teams create a rich and supportive dialogue with each other. Leonard & Yorton describe this as starting from a place of abundance instead of always leading with "No", or worse in my mind, the passive and disengaged ”Sure”. If your teams could benefit from these principles in your work environment there are some simple activities that you can use to bring your group together.
Focus on active listening
Players form a circle and must complete an entire story with each player adding one word as the story circulates. This forces each person to be present in the moment, to react quickly, and to help advance the story. All critical tools for business.
SIT, STAND, LEAN
Focus on observing physical responses
Throughout this improv game, there is one simple rule: one person must be sitting, one person must be standing, and one person must be leaning. The audience suggests a location and the “actors” assume their positions and begin the scene. After just a few moments of conversation, one of the actors should shift positions (perhaps from sitting to standing). When this shift happens, one of the two other actors must assume a new position. This improv builds upon one-word story and asks the group to become aware of the story and to become more aware of the physicality of those around them.
Focus on collaborative communication
One participant assumes the role of the taxi driver and sits at the front of the room with an empty chair beside them. Other participants line up and one by one take the empty seat next to the taxi driver. With each turn, the driver asks “Where are you headed?”. Without disclosing their destination, the passenger describes where they are going. The taxi driver guesses the destination until they figure it out or they need to pass. This goes on for the duration of the game.
With all of the games, it is critical to remember the “yes, and” rule. Keeping the spirit of the games positive and collaborative will keep you on track to walk away with a team that listens to each other, is open to new ideas and trusts that they are all supportive of each other.