Training with a Twist
by Lisa Safran
Businesses are adopting a new training and development method to improve communication, increase mental agility, build collaborative teams, and uncover leaders within the ranks. New approaches to training are also an effective strategy in retaining staff.
What is this new method? It’s bringing IMPROVISATION into the workplace. Improv is not just stage entertainment! Mental agility and the ability to think on ones feet are essential skills in fast-paced business environments. Improvisation training helps to enhance those skills in an effective, experiential and supportive setting. It’s about getting to -or staying at the top of- your game while having fun at the same time.
Is this really training?
Imagine your staff in a room, paired off doing silly hand & counting games. Every few seconds you hear one of them sing out a loud woo-hoo. You’re seriously wondering how this kind of behavior could possibly enhance productivity and whether or not you’ve made a big mistake.
Well, consider this: it looks like silly hand games, but what is really happening is your staff is thinking as fast as they can, recognizing that inherent in the process is the propensity to make a mistake. Instead of wasting time mourning the mistake, they recognize that it happened, give it a shout-out, and move on. Quickly, and efficiently, they are practicing a high level of mental agility.
Here’s another crazy scenario:
You’ve come to a function as a favor to a friend. It’s supposed to be about networking. There are about 25 people, none of whom look like they would be beneficial to know, given your line of work. But you play along.
By the end of the 2-hour session, you know more about several of these people than you know about people you interact with regularly. You have a secret handshake with one, a secret word with another and a silly dance with yet another. You know about an earth-shaking experience one of the participants has had, and you’ve gained a new understanding for people with different life experiences.
When you walked in, the last thing on your mind was making each personal encounter a rich experience. Now you can’t stop thinking about how easy it was…and how enriching for everyone.
The difference? IMPROV!
It was used to introduce fun games, but with a twist: they are learning games.
There are several tenets of Improv that are akin to good business practices:
- “Yes, and.” When was the last time you were focused on making your partner look good? Get in the habit of saying “yes, and” and not only does your partner look good, you have just opened the way for more ideas to flow between you. Try it for the next hour. When anyone says anything, answer with “yes, and.” Who knows what will follow those words? Welcome to improvisation!
- Sincere listening. Another amazing thing to do in a business environment (and life in general) is to Just Listen. Try it in the very next conversation you get into. Don’t form a response while you are listening. Just listen. Then play back what you heard and watch what happens. Typically, the interaction slows down, and deepens. The speaker can rest, knowing s/he’s been heard. You can relax and respond accordingly. See how this might help in any setting? We play a game in improv where you talk for 2 minutes and then the other person repeats back to you what s/he heard you say. It’s meaningful to know you’ve been heard—and to hear how the words you used were interpreted.
- We’re all in this together, aka Teamwork. Lose the ego. Now it’s time to move the scene forward. That means we’re making each other look good. It’s not about who gets the credit, because WE work as a unit. Divided we fall, united we stand. How’s that for a productive attitude?
Is it any wonder why Improvisation has infiltrated the business ranks? People are people. We like to laugh and engage. Admit it—it’s the way we’re wired. And most of us like to learn. So what could be better than learning through playing?
Progressive companies have cooked up a winning combination: combining the tried-and-true classroom instructional style with stimulating and engaging hands-on teaching. And voila, we have improvisation in the workplace. Just say “yes…and” to see what harnessing the power of improvisation can do for your workforce.