Client and Student Interviews

Hoopla facilitator and teacher Liam Brennan interviewed a diverse range of Hoopla clients and students to ask how they’ve applied improv into their work life and businesses. Here’s what they had to say.

Sabrina Luisi Fundraising

Sabrina Luisi: Fundraising

Liam: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how improv has impacted your work?

Sabrina: I worked for a large IT company and I started on their graduate programme as a project management grad. Within a few months, I realised that project managing the installation of chip and pin pads in petrol stations wasn’t quite for me. I had a mentor who was the Head of Talent for the organisation and responsible for spotting high potential people as well as supporting their progress through development programmes. She asked what my dream job would be and I said I would love to run the graduate programme one day. A few months later, she offered me the job, so I started running the grad programme that I was currently on. I did that for a few years and expanded it across Europe, which I loved. I then applied for another internal talent programme, this one called Future Leaders.

I got on the programme but the piece of feedback that stuck with me was that I had the ability to keep progressing up the organisation but that the thing that would hold me back was my desire to be in control and work in a very structured way. That worked lower down the organisation but as I got higher up, decisions were harder and there wasn’t always going to be a clear ‘right’ answer

They offered to send me on a ‘managing change’ course, but that seemed to be the opposite of ambiguous – I don’t think you can learn to manage ambiguity in a classroom with learning outcomes! So that’s when I signed up to an improv course.

I’m now much better at accepting that I can’t control everything, that often the idea I have is not always the best in the room and to let it go, and that as long as you share the goal of making each look good, then whatever goal you’re working on will usually come out well!

Liam: How has improv influenced your attitude towards not being able to control everything?

Sabrina: As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve started to lead teams and I now work in the third sector, running a department responsible for fundraising, marketing and public affairs. Before joining a year ago, I did not have any experience or qualifications in any of those three areas. Improv has taught me that you don’t need to know everything (and in fact, you can’t) but if you have the right team with you, have a clearly articulated goal and commit to making each other look good, success is highly likely. I don’t have experience in those areas but I’ve hired people who do and I trust them to do a great job. Improv has taught me to loosen up and trust that people will always play/work to the height of their intelligence.

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

Also, when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does), sometimes it generates a new idea or a better way of working. Failure isn’t the end of the story, it’s often what sparks your most creative moments

Liam: In terms of generating new ideas from failure, do you have any examples of that or any moments that stick out to you?

Sabrina: When I first started managing a team, we’d have a ‘Chumbawamba’ standing agenda item, where we’d share an example of where we got knocked down and then got back up again! I have done this in every organisation I’ve been in since, and we share them in our weekly team meetings and log them. I think it’s important that we all get used to talking about failure so no one feels embarrassed to admit when it’s happened.

In terms of specific failure, I had been tasked with running a development programme and I wanted to secure budget for some team building training. I was cocky and thought I could easily secure it, and when my budget was cut I initially felt paralysed because I didn’t think I could deliver impactful training on no money. But then I thought about how instead of spending money, we could generate money. Previously the graduates on the programme had always done business projects that were internally facing, ‘nice to have’ and rarely implemented. It was frustrating to the grads, it cost a lot of time and money and delivered no value.

So with no money to spend, I got creative! We tasked the grads and interns with raising money for charity instead. One of the best projects was the ‘one red paperclip challenge’ which was based on the book by Kyle McDonald (highly recommend it). He set himself the task of trading one red paperclip for something better, and so on and so on. After a year and 14 swaps, he ended up with a two story farmhouse. Our interns did the same project and ended up with things like day long flight experiences or a two week holiday chalet in the Alps. We auctioned everything off and in the two years I ran the programme we raised £40k for charity using 0.2% of the workforce

I only spent money on paper clips and they learnt really valuable skills like negotiation, teamwork, resilience and how to hustle. The money all went to our charity partner. We wouldn’t have done those projects if I had just trucked along with my standard training plan.

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