Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal resultsInc. Author of the new book Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.
Improv comedy took place on a stage, but the venue was not Hollywood’s famous Comedy Store; it was a beautiful poolside deck overlooking the sparkling waters of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. And the talent on stage wasn’t the main performers who keep an audience rolling down the aisles every night, but members of my team.
We all took part in a day of improv comedy as part of a team building exercise. We had a blast – and learned a lot.
My team members took the opportunity and performed a hilarious sketch, thinking and changing the storyline. The word melodramatic does not cover the load. Some of the exaggerated contributions had us all laughing. And while it was certainly entertaining, the benefits of exploring improvisation for business immediately caught my eye.
In one exercise, participants had to come up with a story spontaneously and develop their own twists, which in this case meant working together to produce an increasingly outrageous plot, like a soap opera on steroids. But this creative teamwork illustrates how the workplace can become more productive and creative when there is such a spirit of collaboration.
The spontaneity of improvisation has the ability to inspire creative thinking that has to be seen to be believed. When you’re on the spot and don’t have time to sit still and think, the human brain is capable of wild fantasies. Seen in a business context, the ability to conjure up ideas that seem risky and far-fetched can lead to business breakthroughs.
I feel that when you are involved in this type of activity, you should listen carefully to what the person in front of you has said and respond immediately. It includes both visual and verbal communication. It is a skill essential in business environments to avoid misunderstandings. Participating in improv can sharpen this skill because you need to clearly understand what the other person has said so you can use that information and put your own spin on it.
Improv pushes you outside of your comfort zone, making you do something far removed from your day-to-day activities. You are encouraged to take risks without any judgment from your peers. As a result, individuals are likely to develop more self-confidence, something that is especially valuable when you need to give presentations or interact with the audience. In our scenario, my top trainers performed as admirably as I would expect. But what was really impressive was when team members got on the board “behind the scenes”.
Laughter is the best medicine. It can break down barriers and strengthen relationships on an individual level and within the company. It helps to stimulate a healthy work culture. Going through an improvisation exercise proves the value of a good belly laugh for team members. Sharing funny experiences, or participating in light-hearted banter, can create a sense of belonging and a more harmonious working atmosphere.
The nature of improvisation is that humor often stems from mistakes made by the participants. Mistakes are not only expected, but also celebrated. The message in business is that failure when it happens should be embraced as a learning opportunity. Overcoming fear of failure is essential for business growth. In other words, not playing it safe can lead to major business developments.
Our day of improvising and going through the different exercises was a great exercise to strengthen the team. Besides being a lot of fun, it also confirmed how well we work together as a group. It is an activity that every leadership team can benefit from in improving the work culture. I encourage you to give it a try.