I’m part of a team that is delivering a big piece of work using agile methodology, which I’ve written about before. With our project moving and changing so quickly we find ourselves reacting to new circumstances and having to improvise on the spot a lot. So it made good sense for us to travel as a team to Granville Island Theatre Sports and learn a little bit about what improv can contribute to our team and to our professional culture. Here are six professional game changers from improv.
A common misconception about improv is that you have to be funny to do it. In reality, being yourself is the key to your success because when a group of people get together and react to each other within the framework of thoughtful and fun activities, well, hilarity typically ensues. Experiencing improv together has given our team a deeper sense of who we are as individuals and how we are seen by our colleagues.
Strike a power pose
Amy Cuddy’s awesome TED Talk about how our body language impacts our health and confidence. According to Cuddy, “adopting high power poses increases explicit and implicit feelings of power and dominance, risk-taking behavior, action orientation, pain tolerance, and testosterone (the dominance hormone), while reducing stress, anxiety, and cortisol.” No wonder improvisers use this tactic to warm up and build confidence before performing! Just like I strike a power pose before I lead a meeting, give a presentation, or walk out into the living room for a fun morning of tower-building with my son.
Live in the moment
Improv is more about reacting than acting, which means that it’s hard (or impossible) to script. Just think back to the last meeting you led where someone sent things off-track with a funny anecdote about the weekend or a critical quip about how the team wasn’t working well together. When we’re really good at carrying out scripted work everything is fine as long as everything goes according to plan. But this rarely happens in life, which is why scripts get re-written and why films have editors. When you live in the moment you must be an incredible listener so that you can react really well to your audience and/or colleagues. Living in the moment will also make you more comfortable and confident when things go off-script or people say ridiculous things. The better you get at being able to react the more competent you’ll become at focusing everyone’s attention on the team’s goal.
Win as a team
The team’s goal is to win together, which usually means huge laughs or, if you’re on my team, delivering an excellent learning experience for some pretty anxious managers. Celebrated improvisers and movie-makers Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele emphasize the importance of eliminating your own ego and striving to win as a team on the improv stage: “It’s almost like we’re serving Key and Peele second and the God of Improvisation first.” Everything gets easier when everybody is focused in the same way on the same goal and working together to achieve it.
This is my favourite thing about improv. I am a naturally positive person and love experiencing things; any wisdom that I have at the age of 35 is because I said “Yes” to things – food, traveling, hard work, doomed romance, danger – a lot in my life. Everyone has experienced a meeting or has worked with a colleague who says “No” to pretty much everything. “No, there’s no budget” or “no, there’s not enough time” or “no, we don’t have the right talent” are all examples of how saying “no” can kill a team’s mojo. The concept of “Yes, and-ing” allows people to build of each other’s creativity and enthusiasm, which generates innovation and energy for the work ahead. Imagine how much inclusivity is felt in your community when everyone knows that their idea will not only be heard, but also accepted, used and built upon?
Have fun with it!
Oh my goodness the laughter that our team expelled during two hours of improv learning gave us stretched faces and strained bellies! According to HBR’s Annie McKee, “Disengaged, unhappy people aren’t any fun to work with, don’t add much value, and impact our organizations (and our economy) in profoundly negative ways. It’s even worse when leaders are disengaged because they infect others with their attitude.”However you do it – and improv is a great tactic – infuse some fun in your community because it engages people and makes us more productive, too!