Improv: Parallels to Collaboration?

Organisations are continuing to seek new ways of working together to solve complex problems.

Many of today’s organisational dilemmas can’t be solved by one person or division alone. They require inputs from a variety of sources from other departments and even from outside as well as a different way of working together.

Were struck by the parallels to improvisational theatre or improv as it is called where most or all of what is performed is created in the moment that it is presented.

Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Works, the business solutions division of the US improvisational comedy theatre, The Second City (a school which has trained some of Americas outstanding comedic performers) outlines the fundamentals of improv which can be applied in collaboration:

  • embrace the ensemble in improv, you always take care of your partner which requires cooperation, collaboration and unconditional support. There is no competition or win/lose. You are in it together for the greater good of the performance.
  • take responsible risk knowing that failure in improv is ever present, performers need to be able to accept little failures on their way to larger successes. They use their ensemble to solve vexing problems and support them when things go wrong.
  • follow the follower in improv, it doesn’t matter who starts or leads. Its about doing whatever is needed to entertain the audience. Similarly, collaboration requires people to follow the energy and ideas to come to a solution regardless where they originate.

Working collaboratively requires new ways of being:

  • Bringing a curious mindset
  • Letting go (of being in control)
  • Sitting with ambiguity
  • Looking for the broader benefits

This new way of working can be challenging for participants, senior leaders and even the facilitators themselves. Yet, the outcomes speak for themselves: new perspectives, wider viewpoints, greater understanding of the whole and new connections and relationships to pursue. And, maybe most importantly, a more engaged and highly energised group of people ready to tackle the hard stuff.

For more information on improv and how it can improve creativity and collaboration, check out Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses No, But Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration 


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