We had a sit down interview with some of our Hoopla Impro Facilitators, asking them about their own experiences in applying improv into the world of work. Here’s what they had to say!
What is the most common challenge you encounter in corporate workshops?
The most common challenge I encounter is discomfort with failure, despite it being necessary to any creative process. While people understand this as a principle, they often have a difficult time embodying it.
I use a series of exercises designed for failure; things that are difficult to do but not of high-importance. We look at the ways in which our bodies and brains react against the discomfort of failure and start to program a healthy relationship with it, replacing fear with enjoyment and acceptance.
I think often businesses come to improv because they are keen to unlock creative potential in their staff.
Improv unlocks this creative potential as it is a very levelling activity. Everyone is equal when doing an improv workshop and everyone can take part. It’s a quick and easy way to allow for a change in attitudes and behavior.
An aspect of improv I use to help to establish this environment is the technique of ‘yes and’. It’s about embracing the opportunity to have no blocks when offering suggestions and delaying our own judgement on creative suggestions. It creates a space where people are able to make brave decisions and not feel judged. It allows people to take risks and therefore unlock the hidden creative potential of their staff.
For a lot of people there’s a significant difference between freely saying an idea in your work life and your private life.
Say that the two of us are good friends. We’re a couple of beers in and I say to you “I’m thinking of doing this with my life” and you can reply “Let’s have a chat and bounce ideas around”. It feels like a safe and low risk environment to share a big idea. Whereas in a workplace, it sometimes feels like there’s a risk to saying an idea, due to fear of judgement. There can be a fear of “How will this affect my career?”
So for us it’s about not just teaching employees to say those ideas but also to teach the leaders to create a space where people feel able to share ideas. It’s about establishing psychological safety so that you can really hear from each member of the team. When you do that, the risk just goes.
What’s the most valuable improv technique for business?
‘Yes and’ is really useful. I think the idea of delaying judgement is brilliant for anyone in any kind of business or any kind of discussion, particularly when addressing a creative brief. To clarify, that doesn’t mean we have to say yes to everything but rather to explore an idea fully before discarding it.
If you immediately judge something, then you end up discounting loads of potential ideas that could blossom into something amazing. Immediate judgment also shuts down peoples’ ideas, which damages morale and discourages collaboration.
Improv gives you the ability to listen to and expand on ideas, essentially creating a culture of innovation. In business, sometimes people can have a tendency to devalue ideas. Well, what’s an iPhone? It’s just an idea that’s been carried out to its completion. Anything that ever makes money, has to come from an initial idea first. So if you’re closing down ideas and you’re not even hearing ideas from your team, there’s a potential huge amount of revenue going right there and then.
By listening and expanding on ideas, we create an environment where people feel like part of a team. Toxic environments come about in places where people don’t feel valued and listened to. Consequently, this makes people leave which will mean a business will constantly have to train new staff. It also causes competitiveness, people end up fighting for a position or just look out for themselves. Whereas in improv, people are going to want to be there. They like each other and they’re going to want to work with each other.
For me, improv is where people can experience pure positive and productive teamwork. If teamwork isn’t valuable for business, then why employ people? For me; and maybe this is just common sense, if you’re not listening to your staff then why have them, especially if their role is generating ideas? If you’re not listening to each other, then we’re just spending money on people who are in isolation chambers. But when you have extreme listening and collaboration, that’s when you can really work as a cohesive team.
What’s the most frequent communication mistake in the business world?
I think poor listening is at the root of a lot of mistakes and accounts for poor team work and poor team sales. The competitive business environment makes people keen to be the one to be seen as smart, clever, fast, intelligent, alpha or whatever. It often means people predict or think they know what you’re saying because they’ve already jumped ahead to their own conclusion while pushing their own agenda. This means you’re not really working together as a group because it’s about what each person wants to say rather than what the group is building.
This was successfully handled in a previous business I worked in where interruptions were really frowned upon. Unfortunately this is not the case in all organisations. A step forward for these companies would be establishing some sort of courtesy where people were able to finish their ideas and thoughts before everyone else jumps in. I’m certainly not saying that every idea we come up with will be perfect but a space in which every idea is welcomed is useful. It allows us more choices when sifting through suggestions and we can then pick what fits and what’s relevant to the conversation.
If you ever feel angry or upset when something bad has happened at your company, don’t respond via email or text, just speak to them directly. There’s always another side to the story.
Sometimes when managing a group of people, you hear rumours that staff aren’t delivering or underperforming. There’s a managerial instinct of wanting to react immediately and fix what that person is doing. In actual fact you need to step back and immerse yourself in that person’s world. They’re usually doing a lot of work that no one ever knows about and receive no credit for. Speak to them. I know that sounds obvious but after talking the problem always seems less huge.
If I’m going to have a difficult conversation, I use the technique of drawing a stick person of myself, the person I want to talk to and a third person that I respect and admire. You write what you want to say, such as “I want you to ****ing do this”. You next imagine the person you want to talk to, try to come from their point of view and write down what you observe from that. Then you move onto the third person and from their perspective you write down how you should have this conversation.
Based on this method, you can decide what points you keep after looking at all three of the different points of view. Sometimes there is a need to assert yourself and be non-negotiable but at other times you can see things from a different perspective and it will change the way you approach the conversation.
In a nutshell, it comes down to speaking and having empathy. For people who are more structural or project driven, it’s a system that forces you to have more compassion and empathy as a leader. For me it helps to have those checkpoints.
What’s your favourite improv quote and why?
“Hold on tightly, let go lightly.”
In an improv performance this manifests as “I have this amazing idea, I’m going to do it, it’s going to be brilliant.” Then you get on stage and you find that the idea isn’t going to fit with what the other person has said or done. You’ve come on stage with a strong plan but now knowing that it doesn’t fit, you change your attitude to “My idea no longer works, I’ll just throw it away and instead I’m going to work with what’s in front of me.” I think that works in any team based environment.
If you’re trying to push an agenda; say it’s sales for example, it’s common to go into a meeting with a client and be like “I really want to sell X”. However if they’re telling you the problem for them is a different problem then you’ve come in with, then let go of your agenda lightly. Don’t worry about what you came here to sell. Ask yourself: what do they need? It might be different from what they wanted but there’s still a client there and they need you.
The genuinely inspiring Patti Styles once said to me “Make your partner look great”. What she means by that is that improv is a team game, it’s not a competitive sport. It’s about making the team look amazing and that means making your team players suggestions look brilliant.
What can you add to make the light shine brighter on their idea or suggestion? The focus is on the other person not yourself. As soon as you take the pressure of yourself and focus on someone else, it means your own performance is likely to be much better too.
“Don’t bring a cathedral into a scene, bring a brick and let’s build together.” Del Close
I love this quote because I think it sums up everything about improvisation. You’re never on your own. You’re always building something together, the responsibility is never on one person. So that allows you to take greater risks and the end result will be completely unexpected and way more interesting than if it was just one person.
The idea to ‘accelerate your rate of failure’ by Keith Johnstone.
This came from his own observations of becoming better at drawing faces. He initially struggled and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t very good at it. While working ss a school teacher, he observed children drawing faces. Keith noticed that before the children judged their own ability, they would just draw endlessly and keep trying to get better.
Seeing that they were much better at drawing than he was, Keith took on the same attitude as these children. He decided that his goal was to draw a thousand faces. There was a great deal of failure with large peaks and troughs of quality along the way. However, by the time Keith got to a thousand faces, he had become pretty good at drawing.
When I first get into improv I thought I’d apply this same attitude. I’m not going to do one improv show, I’m going to do a thousand. It means that the first dud show I did gave me the attitude to say ‘I learned from this’ rather than ‘This is game over’. I think this philosophy gives people that same persistence and tenacity.
Remember that you’re not deliberately trying to fail, I think people often misinterpret that point. We’re still trying to put on a good artistic endeavour or trying to run a successful company but you accept the fact that you’re not always going to get it right. Whereas, if we’re too timid we’re not going to grow. If it takes a thousand mistakes to make a good company, you’d better make that 500 mistakes pretty quickly. It’s an iterative process to get things going and it’s quite liberating. It takes the pressure off and it means you can go for it like a legend.
Thanks for the workshop. All the feedback has been extremely positive! The team loved it!
We walked away with communication techniques that will stick with us for a lifetime.
The skills you taught them will give them a real competitive edge in the market place.
Inspiring and hugely relevant to how we work.
I’ve used the communication skills learned at Hoopla to attract over $3m in venture capital for my start-up. And had fun doing it!
A smash hit. The feedback has been really amazing.
Improv has helped me to truly listen to what my clients want, understand their problems and then effectively work with others on my team to deliver a concise and consistent message.
My work is about helping clients be more creative and uncover different possibilities and develop them - which improv has really helped with.
Improv has supported my listening and support work for people I represent.
Improv is a great release to just mess around while building on the communication skills, confidence and self esteem that help me in my day to day job.
Really useful for building self confidence and being able to communicate better with people who I was meeting for the first time.
Improv helped me have more faith in myself, particularly in meetings with clients or senior stakeholders. I have more confidence that whatever comes out of my mouth will make sense and be of value.
I think improv makes people kinder to others and themselves. It teaches you to listen, react and support and I think everyone could benefit from more of that individually and collectively.