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The Fundamentals of Improv in the Workplace

Oct 26, 2015

Veteran UCB performer and instructor Ari Voukydis recently shared his insights on improv in the workplace with Funding Gates, a blog that features management tips. This excerpt summarizes the nuts and bolts of improv as a management training tool.

Before making improvisation a part of your management training, it is important to know what it's really all about:

1) It's Not About Comedy:  As Ari Voukydis puts right on the table, "Improv is not about comedy. It's about clarity, communication and a willingness to change."

2) "Yes" And...:  As Ari points out, we "are naturally risk adverse" as people, which can make it easy for us to say no to things. But as Frank Blocker explains, improv is about "saying yes to everything. You have to give your partner something to work with. You must advance the dialogue." Amy Roeder expounds, saying "What that boils down to is that it is the improvisor's job to hear the offer their partner is making, acknowledge it and then build off that idea by contributing their own ideas." That's why "Yes, And... is a staple in improvisation. As Amy points out, "it has become terribly easy to say no, which is why improvisational training tends to be so revolutionary for businesses. In the work I do with businesses, we spend a lot of time working on the idea of acceptance, of saying 'yes' to an idea to see just how efficiently and collaboratively people can work together."

3) Listen, listen, listen: Roeder believes the idea behind yes, and... is 'active and engaged listening'. She says, 'It is impossible to build on your partner's idea if you didn't fully hear that idea.' As Frank states, 'Through listening, you can see where the storyline should and/or could advance. Close your mouth and you'll have a few seconds of good thinking time, inspired by what you're hearing.' Ari adds, "Listening is manifesting a willingness to change". As he reminds, this is one of the most "important skills in any creative endeavor." In improv, it teaches us (in Voukydis' words), to "disengage that normal part of your brain that tries to avoid failure and capture that as nature's teaching tool."

4) Always Pick a Leader: In improv, Blocker says, "Someone should always be the leader. Dueling leaders becomes yelling. And one leader can keep you on point. The 'lead' can switch, but only when you've created a good working dialogue or some sort of framework."

5) Make Your Partner Look Like a Genius: Ari says the best way to excel at improv 'is to make your partner look like a genius. Almost nobody operates that way instinctually. If you listen, are unselfish and set each other up, you will succeed. And if you don't, you won't.'
The full article is available here. 

Src: Ari Voukydis
improv training ucbworkplace ari voukydis management

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Why (and How) to Build Trust at Work

Oct 26, 2015

By Shannon O'Neill

Before shows, many improvisers look into their teammates eyes and say 'Got your back.' This is an expression of trust. Regardless of what happens on stage, the members of the improv team will support each other. Nobody will be left alone to struggle on stage, nobody's ideas will be ignored, nobody will feel left out.

When an improviser steps on stage and verbalizes an idea for a scene, their teammate joins and supports the idea. They continue to do this and create a successful scene. This is a result of trust.

Improv builds trust.

To successfully work as a team, whether the team is made up of two people or twenty people, the members have to trust each other. This goes for sports teams, improv teams and teams created in the workplace.

Nobody likes to be micromanaged. You want to know that an assignment was given to you because you can handle it. You want to give someone an assignment because you know they can handle it.  It feels good to be trusted and to trust. Studies show that employees who feel trusted will demonstrate higher levels of productivity, enhanced creativity and innovation.

When students are first learning how to improvise there is usually a lack of trust, both in themselves and their classmates. But through exercises in class, the students learn that in order to have successful scenes, they have to trust themselves and more importantly, each other. And when they finally allow this to happen, their scenes are better and they start to discover that they are capable of more than they realized.

This also translates into the workplace. When colleagues trust each other, they will have more confidence while completing their assigned tasks, which often leads to superior work and ultimately greater profits.

Src: Shannon O'Neil
improv trust shannon o'neill ucbworkplace teamwork

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Work Together Better: Authentic Listening

Oct 26, 2015

The skills that make you excel at improv comedy are not comedy-specific.     

It doesn't matter if you're witty, or know a lot of pop culture, or can make someone laugh on command. What makes an improviser great is a set of skills that are critical in any collaborative effort: 

-listening
-teamwork
-a willingness to take risks.     

Listening is a word that's thrown around in a lot of team situations. But, more often than not, "listening" is taken to mean "Be polite and wait quietly for your turn to talk."     

Active listening, on the other hand, is like squinting with your ears. It means genuinely comprehending what you're hearing. It means processing the ideas being presented, understanding how and why they are different from yours, and modifying your position to incorporate these new concepts.     

Improvisers actively listen every moment that they are on stage. They do not stop actively listening to their teammates. If they did, they would cease to be a team and revert to being eight comedians delivering eight different punch-lines simultaneously, a.k.a. an unwatchable train wreck.     

Listening is at the core of everything that takes place during improv. Likewise, it is a cornerstone of any productive meeting, brainstorming session or group project. It is the foundation for how teams are built and how they learn to work together.

ucbworkplace teamwork collaboration Listening

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