Improvisation and teambuilding

I am always asked how we use improvisation and the learning of improvisation skills as a team building exercise. I have to take things one step back and consider what people mean by ‘teambuilding’: Images of groups of panicked and sunburned business execs in rubber boats white-water rafting spring to mind. And then I think of the slightly overweight, asthmatic woman (me), whose usual contact with the great outdoors is her window box of dead herbs. There’s that awful moment where she knows that her ‘team’ would do far better without her. And they can’t help but give her those looks of disappointment, and encouraging her in aggressive ‘you’d better try harder’ tones. And that feels a lot like team forcing as opposed to team building.

Improvisation works differently. It focuses on what makes a team work. So, in essence, a group learns, through improvisation, to build a team. A team can be made up of many different personalities. It can have a long or short life-span depending on its functions, and it can change dynamically to accommodate new members and situations. But with improvisation tools, the rules that make a functioning, successful and creative team stay the same.

These rules can be applied to any group situation and they are really the most basic ones. They are also, surprisingly, the hardest ones to employ naturally. So, what are these rules? Say Yes. Saying no, or blocking other people’s ideas or opinions is our most natural choice. We always do it. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. Improvisation 101 is learning to say yes, and then learning the unbelievable freedom that yes gives us, in terms of creativity, support and development. Rule number two is listen. Really hear what is being said. Then respond. Don’t decide what your answer is until you have heard what is being said. Don’t pretend to listen. Just do it. Rule number three is enthusiasm. A ‘wimp’ or a ‘maybe’ is as deadly as a ‘no’. Accepting an ‘offer’ or suggestion, even if it isn’t groundbreaking, can take it further and turn it into something fantastic. Wimping at somebody’s suggestion, or assenting without enthusiasm causes a creative leak in energy for everybody.

The reason why improvising is so effective is because there is no plan, no hidden agenda. Participants learn to make things up as they go along, and they do it together. And there is nobody telling them what to do, how to do it or that they are wrong. Egos, agendas and directors don’t work. And as long as the rules are followed, magic happens. Agreement is reached. There is no conflict – no fierce debate. And the unexpected happens – teams work creatively and with imagination. Inhibitions and insecurities are forgotten. And everybody laughs. Really laughs. That’s what I call team building.

I offer improvisation workshops that can be tailor made to suit your needs. The session can be an excellent ice-breaker for a conference or seminar. It works brilliantly as a fun, active training session. I have worked with groups as diverse as hotel staff, from housekeepers to management, top management, call centre employees, insurance brokers, accountants and even recent graduates. Sessions can be from an hour to 3 hours long.